Yolo County has more stores selling kid-friendly flavored tobacco products than other areas of California and more of these stores are near schools, according to data released by the nonprofit Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community.
The findings are part of a statewide survey conducted last summer and fall that collected data from more than 7,000 stores, including convenience, supermarket, liquor, tobacco, small market, discount, drug and big-box stores. The survey looked at which tobacco products stores sold (as well as which types of alcohol and unhealthy foods), how those products were advertised in the store, the availability of e-cigarettes and the stores’ proximity to schools.
“The survey results show those offering unhealthy products are continuing to find new ways to entice our youth, such as flavored cigars — which are the same price as a pack of gum — and those products are being marketed throughout our county, often in stores just a few blocks from schools,” said Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Constance Caldwell.
“We are committed to working with retailers, partners and parents throughout Yolo County to protect our children and make our communities healthier,” she added.
The survey also showed that more than 69 percent of stores that sell alcohol have alcohol advertisements near candy and toys or on displays below three feet high. Experts say that type of advertising targets children who are more susceptible to the flashy colors and bold statements.
“As adults, we’re desensitized to the unhealthy advertising and products in stores,” Caldwell said. “We need to stop and notice how many unhealthy messages are surrounding our children every day.
“Research shows that young people are highly influenced by the marketing of products like tobacco and alcohol, even more so than peer pressure. Their choices today could either lead to a healthy lifestyle or to obesity, chronic disease and even death.”
Specific findings for Yolo County include:
* 161 stores in Yolo County sell tobacco products and 13.7 percent of those stores are within 1,000 feet of a school. More than half are in low-income areas;
* 74 percent of stores sell chewing tobacco compared to 56 percent statewide;
* 54.5 percent of stores have tobacco products near candy at the checkout; and
* 59.1 percent of stores that sell alcohol have exterior alcohol advertising.
The findings also showed that electronic cigarettes are widely available in Yolo County, with more than 45 percent of stores in the county selling them.
E-cigarettes are cigarette-shaped devices that contain a nicotine-based liquid that is vaporized and inhaled. The number of stores statewide that sell e-cigarettes has quadrupled in the past two years.
E-cigarettes, Caldwell said, are “yet another highly addictive product that is being aggressively marketed and showing up in retail stores.”
“The popularity and prevalence could undermine the great work we’ve done to reduce tobacco use in California,” she added.
Indeed, there has already been a reversal of sorts on tobacco suppression in Yolo County.
Caldwell told county supervisors earlier this year that since 2007, the percentage of Yolo County teens who smoke as increased from 5.8 percent to more than 15 percent. The county had been making strides in reducing both youth and adult smoking to some of the lowest rates in the state.
To counteract the increase, Caldwell asked for — and received from the Board of Supervisors — $170,000 for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts, including those aimed specifically at youth.
The funds would bolster existing efforts that include encouraging store owners to reduce in-store tobacco advertising, collaborating with the district attorney’s office on undercover checks for tobacco sales to minors and increasing the focus on e-cigarettes.
County supervisors also have expressed interest in adding e-cigarettes to existing ordinances regulating tobacco products, something a number of other cities and counties in California already have done.
As for efforts to combat the marketing of tobacco products to youths, a recent report card issued by the American Lung Association on anti-smoking efforts throughout the state, gave both Davis and West Sacramento, as well as the county itself, high marks for reducing sales of tobacco products through tobacco retailer licensing.
Under state law, city and counties can require tobacco retailers to obtain a license to sell tobacco products, allowing municipalities to keep track of tobacco retailers, conduct enforcement activities to ensure compliance with state and local laws and penalize retailers who sell to minors.
But while Davis, West Sacramento and Yolo County earned the highest marks for that, both Winters and Woodland received F grades for a lack of any retail tobacco licensing.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy