A recent survey of local retailers that sell tobacco in Umatilla County revealed youth are being targeted by the tobacco industry based on where those products are placed in the business.
Umatilla County Public Health educator Janet Jones said, on average, the tobacco industry spends an average of $8.37 billion per year on marketing and advertising in the United States. About $8 billion of that is spent on advertising and product placement at the point of sale, near the front counter. Tobacco companies pay to have ads, products and marketing materials that appeal to a specific demographic placed in a certain location of stores.
Jones said, in her survey of Umatilla County retailers, she learned the majority of the products and advertising placed at the point of sale specifically targets the youth population.
SURVEY OF LOCAL RETAILERS
Jones said she asked 74 retailers in the county to participate in the survey, and 90 percent agreed. For the survey, each described the types of tobacco products they sold and where they are placed in the store.
Jones said she was surprised to see how many tobacco products or advertisements were placed near or next to items that youth are more likely to purchase.
About one in five retailers in Umatilla County display advertisements for tobacco or e-cigarette products within a foot of candy, toys, gum or a slushy or ice cream machine.
“Who is bending over to get that ice cream?” she said. “Most likely, it is going to be a youngster.”
Jones said tobacco and e-cigarette products were also often displayed and presented with bright and colorful advertisements, which could attract the attention and curiosity of young children.
“E-pens, electronic hookahs, they are not black,” she said. “They are all these bright banana, grape (flavors) ... which are very attractive to kids.”
Jones said several retail stores in the region had advertising for tobacco products that was directly at eye level for young children.
Additionally, at nearly every convenience store, which accounted for 67 percent of those she surveyed, stores had what she Jones referred to as a “power wall” of advertisements and other promotions, situated at the point of sale near the check-out counter. Included in that power wall are brightly colored advertisements, promotions and discounts for items such as cigarettes, flavored cigars and other tobacco products geared toward grabbing people’s attention.
Jones said what is scary about that is youth are more likely to be exposed to those tobacco advertisements because they frequent convenience stores. She said about 70 percent of youth will go into a convenience store at least once a week where they are inundated with advertising.
Advertising is also heavier in rural areas than in urban communities, Jones said.
“We have the lowest prices and the highest percent of tobacco promotions in advertising,” she said.
TOBACCO USE HIGHER THAN THE STATE
Jones said after completing the survey, she can see why tobacco rates are higher in Umatilla County than in the rest of the state, especially among the youth population.
According to data provided by Umatilla County Public Health, 17 percent of 11th-graders in Umatilla County smoke compared with the state rate of 12 percent.
Jones said smokeless tobacco numbers are even more alarming. According to numbers provided by Umatilla County Public Health, 29 percent of 11th-graders in Umatilla County are using chewing tobacco compared with the state average of 10 percent.
“While we have made progress ... our chew rate for 11th-grade males is almost three times the state rate,” she said.
About 16 percent of 11th-graders in Umatilla County are also using cigars or cigarillos compared with the state average of 8 percent, and about 10 percent are using electronic cigarettes compared with the state rate of 5 percent.
LIMITING EXPOSURE TO YOUTH
Jones said there are some things that local communities can do to limit the youth’s ability to obtain tobacco.
Jones said one of the things communities can do is institute a comprehensive tobacco retail license. Currently, she said Oregon is one of the few states that does not have a law that requires anybody that sells tobacco to be licensed. She said what a license would do is give communities the ability to track which stores sell tobacco products, hold those stores accountable for rules and regulations and impose consequences for violations.
Jones said local communities also have the right to ban flavored tobacco, which may appeal to children.
“So, we wouldn’t have to have grape-flavored Swisher Sweets or peach-flavored chew,” she said. “There are no rules that say that local communities can’t ban flavored tobacco.”
Jones said local communities can also prevent price discounts and the redemption of tobacco coupons. She said many tobacco companies will offer incentives such as $1 off a pack of cigarettes or 50 cents off a can of chewing tobacco. She said the more expensive those products are, the less likely people will purchase them.
Jones said Lane County just passed a tobacco retail license that prohibits price discounts and new stores from opening within 1,000 feet of where children are present, such as schools, Head Start locations and parks. She said Lane County also banned sales of electronic cigarettes to minors.
“There is no age limit, right now in Oregon, on the ability to purchase e-cigarettes,” she said.
Jones said tobacco use is currently the leading case of preventable death at the county, state and national levels. More than 160 people die each year from tobacco-related ailments in Umatilla County, and 3,180 people suffer from serious illness caused by tobacco. Every year, she said $30.7 million is spent on medical care related to tobacco in Umatilla County.