Protect your kids from tobacco

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BELLOWS FALLS >> According to a new statewide assessment, stores selling tobacco products within 1,000 feet of a school are more likely to have tobacco marketing visible from outside the store, are more likely to offer discounts on tobacco products, and are more likely to sell cigarillos or small cigars.

Youth and adult volunteers conducted the assessment of 767 retail stores in communities statewide as part of the CounterBalance campaign, which is working to help end tobacco's influence on Vermont's youth. Greater Falls Connections surveyed 22 stores in total, 15 of which were in the towns of Rockingham, Westminster, and Grafton. Although other types of tobacco marketing have been restricted, convenience stores and other retail outlets are still places where children are certain to see tobacco products and ads. In many cases, a young person is exposed to tobacco marketing without even going inside the store.

According to the statewide assessment findings, 12 percent of tobacco retailers are located within 1,000 feet of a school or park. Of those, 51 percent had tobacco marketing visible from outside the store, 82 percent offered cigarillos for sale — and 37 percent discounted cigarillos, compared to 24 percent located farther away from a school.

Raven Hudgins, 11, from Bellows Falls dedicated her time to help complete the surveys of the stores in the Windham Northeast area. When asked about how big tobacco targets youth in retail locations, she said, "I think they should have their own room for tobacco products." She also spoke about the impact of tobacco use on families. "When you are in the hospital, your family members are going to be sad." She also participated in the scans of alcohol retailers and noticed the placement of candy near alcoholic beverages. She said "I don't want little kids getting drunk or thinking that it's OK because the alcohol is (located) near the candy."

Local assessment findings: In our community, 20 percent of retailers were located within 1000 feet of schools; the retailers located near schools in our community did not have any discounted cigarillos, while the rest of the state saw 28 percent of tobacco retailers having discounts; one-third of retailers located near schools in our community sold cigarillos; and one-third of retailers located near schools in our community displayed exterior advertising.

"National research shows that one out of three kids who have tried smoking were directly influenced by tobacco advertising," said Cathy Hazlett of Health Connections of the Upper Valley. "We know the more often kids are exposed to tobacco advertising, the more likely they are to start smoking. Unfortunately, our community store assessments found that our youth are being targeted in areas where they should be protected, such as near schools."

Emily and Todd, co-owners of Jay Country Store, do not have any tobacco products or advertising visible in their store. "We decided to eliminate tobacco advertising and keep the products under the counter because of the way tobacco is hurting our community in terms of both health and wealth. We have a lot of young shoppers come to our store, or walk by our store on their way to school, and we don't want them to be exposed to tobacco marketing."

In Ferrisburgh, Brad Hartley, owner of Vermont Energy Company, consistently rejects promotional contracts from the tobacco industry. "Don't underestimate the intelligence of your customers," Brad encourages fellow store-owners. "Don't be manipulated by industry, have courage and personal integrity, and realize you can make a difference in some young person's life."

Launched in October 2015, CounterBalance is a statewide campaign focused on a variety of ways to help end tobacco's influence on youth. CounterBalance provides facts, tips, and downloadable information to share at www.CounterBalanceVT.com as well as opportunities to help prevent youth tobacco use. The CounterBalance campaign is funded by the Vermont Department of Health.

For more information, visit www.CounterBalanceVT.com or contact Scott Sharland at scott@greaterfallsconnections.org or 802-463-9927, ext. 213.


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