Who is minding the store?

nosmokingWhen you walk into a convenience store or a gas station, you are bombarded with tobacco promotions. These promotions are strategically placed so as to be impossible to miss – next to the snacks and soft drinks; hanging from the ceiling; and located directly behind the checkout counter so they are in your face every time you make a purchase. From the floor to the ceiling, you will find walls chock full of tobacco products of every type and description.

Tobacco company internal memos have shown that, for years, they designed their imagery to get the attention of the youth market.  Tobacco industry documents refer to young people as “Replacement smokers” because their products are destined to kill one in three users.

What other product do you know of that can make that claim when used as directed.   Tobacco companies know that if they can get a young person to start smoking before they become 18 years old, they are more than likely to become hooked for life.

How does tobacco advertising appeal to young people?  The $1 million that the tobacco companies spend each day in New York State guarantees that everyone, including kids, will see their products behind the front counter right next to the candy and other youth oriented items. Exposure to tobacco marketing is a primary cause of youth smoking.  Every day, our kids are exposed to a tremendous amount of tobacco marketing in our grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies. Studies show that even brief exposure to tobacco advertising influences adolescents to smoke. And surprisingly, young people are more likely to be influenced by cigarette advertising than by peer pressure.

When is tobacco too available and too visible in Western New York? You can judge for yourself.   The Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition and the American Cancer Society recently surveyed more than 80 stores that sell tobacco in Amherst, Buffalo, Hamburg, Lockport, Niagara Falls, Tonawanda and Williamsville. The survey found that tobacco ads were displayed inside 93% of stores and that 90% of the stores featured tobacco product displays behind the cash register.  There is one licensed tobacco retailer for every 194 children under age 18 in New York State.

What authority do local communities have over tobacco advertising? For the first time, local communities can make their own decisions. A recent federal law gives state and local governments the authority to determine community standards for responsible tobacco retailing.

Today’s displays give youth the impression that tobacco products are easy to buy and that it is okay to smoke. Tobacco promotions shout at our young people – smoking is cool, sexy and fun. Reducing the number of tobacco retailers or covering up the ubiquitous tobacco advertising will go a long way toward reducing the rate of youth smoking and sales to minors.  The less tobacco seen by our youth the better chance we have to make their health and well being the priority.


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