According to a recent study done by the Huron County Public Health (HCPH) department, it’s a question worth asking.
The HCPH study, which was done as part of a $25,000 grant, shows they may.
“We went after this grant last year because it’s part of community health improvement plan,” said HCPH public information officer Jessica Colvin, who assisted in the study of auditing 46 businesses.
“As part of that initiative, we want to decrease substance abuse and especially decrease it in youth. It helped us to see how tobacco companies were influencing people, to see if they were increasing their initiation. We did audits of stores to see how they were doing this locally.”
Some of their findings were “expected” Colvin said, but not all of them.
“I was sort of surprised by the number of stores that had flavored cigarillos and little cigars, ones that would appeal to children,” she said. “And I was surprised by the amount of external advertising — the ads that are seen before you even enter the store, like in the window of a gas station or on a sign. It’s drawing you in.”
The health department’s data released that nearly all, with 95 percent of stores sold flavored little cigars or cigarillos and 61 percent of stores audited had exterior cigarette advertisements.
Colvin said this is something that community should be concerned about.
“We are going to be pursuing and pushing for policy changes,” she said. “It’s something we should all be concerned with. Once you see how marketing encourages our youths to start smoking and encourages smokers, it’s something to be concerned about.”
Colvin said she believes certain tobacco flavors are specifically designed to appeal to children.
“I think it’s definitely targeted toward youth,” she said.
“I understand that everyone enjoys those flavors but they have all of those bright colors and have the flavors like bubble gum that kids especially like. That’s one of the policies were wanting, to restrict the sale of fruit and fun flavored tobacco products that get kids interested in forming relationship with the tobacco and ultimately get them addicted to it.”
More than a quarter of stores displayed tobacco within 12 inches of toys, candy, gum, slushy/soda machines or ice cream flavored products.
HCPH said in their press release that those policy changes include restricting retailers with 500 feet or 1000 feet of schools, restricting the sale of fruit or candy-flavored tobacco products, setting minimum floor price and restricting the use of coupons and raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21 years.
A survey conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that 90 percent of smokers start by the age of 20. According to HCP, decreasing youth’s exposure to tobacco products could give them an advantage that previous generations didn’t have.
Considering current smoking rates, youth that prolong tobacco use until after the age of 21 only have a 2 percent chance of ever becoming a smoker, the release said.
What can citizens do now?
“Parents should talk to their children early on and keep talking to them about dangers of smoking as well,” Colvin said. “If they want to give us a call, we have some life skills trainers that deal with different types of strategies and can certainly give them some information.
“I think it has to be about more than one avenue of counter marketing. It’s going to take everyone pulling together for counter policies. (The HCPH) is working with our partners, helping to promote policies that promote a more tobacco-free community.
“If anyone is wanting to speak out about it, they can contact their local government official or start reaching out to those agencies, or calling us,” she added. “If they don’t know who to contact or how to get a hold of them, we can certainly help.”