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December 1, 2010 - Tobacco companies call them "replacement smokers." You call them your children. Either way, area kids are being targeted by cigarette makers with a massive amount of advertising in local stores according to a survey released today by Tri-County Tobacco Free Programs, the Reality Check Program and the American Cancer Society.
Stores were randomly selected from a list of retailers licensed to sell tobacco in Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties and 21 stores were visited during the month of October. Key findings of the Tri-county observational survey, released as part of the community education effort include: 86 percent of stores featured tobacco product displays behind the cash register. 38 percent of tobacco ads appeared near toys and/or candy. 98 percent of stores surveyed contained interior tobacco ads.
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Research in the U.S. and abroad suggests that exposure to in-store tobacco promotions is a primary cause of youth smoking. Nearly 90 percent of regular smokers start smoking at or before the age of 18. Very few begin after high school.
"It's shocking. We've been able to limit tobacco company advertising in mass media, but they've changed their approach and are taking full advantage of one of their last outlets to lure youth into smoking," said Mike Porpiglia, community executive for the American Cancer Society. "By invading stores with highly-lit displays and bright ads placed at kids' eye level, they continue to focus on our youth as their next generation of customers."
In-store promotions are a major cause of youth smoking. A National Cancer Institute study concluded that exposure to cigarette advertising causes nonsmoking adolescents to start smoking and to move toward becoming regular smokers. Another study found young people are more likely to be influenced by cigarette advertising than by peer or parental smoking. A paper published earlier this year found a direct relationship between the frequency that a kid visited stores containing tobacco advertising and his or her risk of becoming a smoker.
Katie Thrasher, a 17-year-old Reality Check Youth, said, "It's crazy to think that so many stores have tobacco products or ads that are targeting children who look at the ads and think they're such a great idea. I have a lot to look forward to in my life other than getting hooked on death sticks, the tobacco ads are working against me right in the stores I visit on a regular basis."
As a result of the recent Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FDA law) and the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), retail stores are one of the last places where tobacco companies can expose kids to their advertising. Consequently, tobacco companies spend billions of dollars each year marketing their deadly products in stores. This is done by controlling dominant display space in retail stores and through in-store advertising. Both are typically found around the cash register, sometimes referred to within the industry as the "goal post" because it is the one place in the store where everyone must go. Tobacco companies also invest a lot at these locations in creating so-called "power walls," large appealing displays of products intended to attract the interest of customers.
"Most adults are unaware of the harmful exposure that in-store tobacco ads have on our youth," stated Laurie Adams, Tri County Tobacco Free program director. "The latest study regarding tobacco product marketing and our local observations confirm that our youth are being targeted by the tobacco industry. Parents and community members need to be educated on this type of exposure and take steps to protect our youth."
"Furthermore, we must never give up on the future of our young people, their lives are in our hands," stated Falconer senior and Reality Check Youth, Amosharay McDonald. "Let's lead them into a smoke free lifestyle."
Smokers who want to quit should log on to a newly created American Cancer Society web site - iwillquit.org. The focus of the web site is on living a healthy, active life. Visitors are asked to share their reason for quitting and are provided with resources and tips to help make their attempt a success. Additional support and help in quitting is also available from the New York States Smokers' Quitline at 866-NYQUITS, 866-697-8487 or nysmokefree.com.
Reference: Survey Shows Tobacco Retailers Targeting Children, Jamestown Post Journal, 11/30/2010.