The Catskill Mountain News, a weekly newspaper based in Margaretville, NY (Delaware County) printed this op ed in its June 5, 2019 issue and posted it on its website.

Cigarette/Vape producers marketing to children; communities should take action 

Op Ed     June 05, 2019   

Smoking kills and is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In fact, cigarettes kill more people in the United States than alcohol, car crashes, AIDS, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. In New York State alone, tobacco use claims 28,000 lives each year.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, heart and vascular problems, and cancer, as well as bad breath and poor health, in general. Although e-cigarettes (also known as vapes/vape pens) have been promoted by some to help individuals withdraw from cigarette smoking, the aerosol contains harmful substances including heavy metals, and the nicotine is considered dangerous to pregnant women and their developing fetuses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved e-cigarettes as a proven cessation device.

Who Is Affected?

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) reports that 14.2 percent of adults in the state (two million) smoke, a number slightly above the national average. Data shows that 4.3 percent of high school students (34,000) use cigarettes. The current rate of adult smoking in Delaware County is 23.4 percent, higher than the state average.

Multiple marketing methods target youth

The Eastern Delaware County Coalition on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (EDCCSAPT) collaborated with Advancing Tobacco Free Communities of Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie Counties (AFTC), to assess the marketing of tobacco and nicotine products in Delhi, Margaretville, and Roxbury.

The assessment consisted of an observation/audit of each local licensed tobacco vendor by two to three team members, using a data collection form provided by ATFC. Observers look to see what marketing techniques are used to encourage smoking/vaping. The name and location of the store is noted as well as schools or playgrounds visible from the store. Exterior advertisements for both tobacco and vaping products that would draw people in are reviewed.

Other aspects assessed are how a display is set up and where; ads for the purchase of multiple packs of cigarettes at discounts and whether or not sales taxes are included in advertised pricing, as well as the visibility behind the sales/ checkout counter. Important factors include tobacco/vaping products located within 12 inches of toys, candy, gum, mints, slushy/soda machines or ice cream, advertisements at a child’s eye level and whether any cessation materials made available inside the store.

Ad content matters

Tobacco companies spend more on marketing than junk food, soda and alcohol industries combined. The more tobacco marketing kids see, the more likely they are to smoke.

Marlboro is the first cigarette brand a new smoker will usually choose because of the familiar red coloring seen in product advertisements. According to the CDC, the top three brands usually used by current U.S. middle and high school cigarette smokers were Marlboro, Newport, and Camel. Advertisements for these three brands were also the three most commonly identified “favorite cigarette ads” among smokers with a favorite brand.

Advertisements in commercials or social media for vaping products like JUUL, the most popular brand of e-cigarettes, depict young people having a good time at parties or out with friends. Paired with endorsements from high profile public figures, musicians, and TV personalities, this is the perfect recipe for perpetuating the culture of vaping and tobacco product use among youth.

The use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS, which includes e-cigarettes) among high school age youth, doubled nationwide between 2014 and 2016 from 10.5 percent to 20.6 percent, making ENDS the most commonly used tobacco product. The CDC highlights that ENDS have been marketed using similar tactics as those proven to lead to youth smoking.

Findings in our communities.

In the Village of Delhi, observers visited seven tobacco vendors including three gas station-affiliated convenience stores. We noticed a lot of marketing and display materials inside and outside of various tobacco retail locations. The most shocking tobacco promotions were advertisements and product placements at a child’s eye level. Any advertising under 36 inches on a retailer’s door is targeting toddlers and children in an effort to normalize tobacco use and initiate brand recognition and future loyalty. We discovered that there is one tobacco retailer for every 30 students in the Village of Delhi, not counting the SUNY Delhi college students.

In Roxbury and Margaretville, we visited four gas stations with convenience stores that had similar product promotions and placements. In Margaretville, a gas station with a “country store” that sells tobacco products is right next door to the K-12 Margaretville Central School. This tobacco vendor had interior advertising for tobacco products in the window and visible for exterior viewing; tobacco products within 12 inches of the candy and gum; discount advertising for tobacco products, no smoking cessation products available, and a tobacco and e-cigarette display behind the cashier that took up more than 75 percent of the wall space.

New strategies needed

Strategies for effective and lasting change must be implemented. Legislation helps decrease use by youth. Research shows that high tobacco product prices deter experimentation and promote cessation. On the state level, the legislature agreed to tax the sale of vapor products at 20 percent. In addition, retailers planning to sell vapor products in the state must now register with the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance. The NYS legislature recently passed a bill raising the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products to 21.

We can address the advertising and marketing by the tobacco and vaping industry targeting youth. Some communities have adopted local ordinances to regulate the sale of tobacco/nicotine products by limiting the number, location and type of outlets authorized to sell tobacco/ nicotine. Others have restricted retailers’ authority to redeem tobacco/nicotine product price discounts and coupons. Local policies are currently in place in 16 counties, plus New York City.

Finally, expanding the ways we educate youth and young adults might better advance tobacco/nicotinefree initiatives by increasing young people’s awareness and knowledge about tobacco/ nicotine products and the deceptive marketing strategies that target youth. Preventing and reducing tobacco use are the most important public health actions we can take to improve the health of New Yorkers.

This article was written by the tobacco retail observation team of Nicole Jones, RN, BSN, as a student at SUNY Delhi School of Nursing; Linda Wegner, Program Director for ATFC; Bonnie Peck, Reality Check/Youth Engagement Coordinator for ATFC; and Diana Mason, PhD, RN, Facilitator for EDCCSAPT (Eastern Delaware County Coalition for Substance Abuse, Prevention and Treatment).