May 31 was World No Tobacco Day. However, the fight against tobacco extends to every day of the year. Despite the global smoking rate declining almost 30 percent in the last 25 years, more people are actually smoking world-wide. Why is this? The world’s population is increasing, largely due to population growth in developing countries. The tobacco industry has shifted their marketing and predatory tactics towards these countries.
Still, the industry continues to prey on vulnerable groups in the US, targeting young people as replacements for their current smoking customers. Tobacco remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease.
The tobacco industry spends $1 million an hour advertising their deadly products to Alaskans, in grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores. Smokers do not need a sign to remind them to buy cigarettes. Advertising familiarizes young people with tobacco brands and reduces the perception of harm, especially for candy flavored tobacco products, when sold next to innocuous grocery store items. Displaying tobacco products at the grocery store also encourages impulse purchases, undermining people’s efforts at quitting. And tobacco advertising has been shown to influence young people to smoke with an effect equal to that of parental smoking.
In a recent study of Juneau tobacco retailers (excluding adult only locations), 100 percent were found to have tobacco displays visible to children. Seventy-five percent sold single little cigars (cigarillos) and seventy-two percent sold flavored tobacco products. Twenty-one percent had tobacco products displayed within 12 inches of candy or toys and at least 8 percent had ads within 3 feet of the floor. All of the Juneau tobacco retailers were located within the 10 lowest income neighborhoods while the other 15 neighborhoods of higher income had zero establishments.
Who will be the first tobacco-free generation? Will we achieve it while allowing the tobacco industry to advertise candy flavored tobacco products to children at the grocery store? The CBJ should consider restricting the sales of flavored-tobacco products to adult-only establishments.
• Dr. Kristin Cox is part of the Tobacco Prevention and Control at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Juneau.