Despite raising the smoking age to 21 and banning tobacco purchases to those younger than 21, New Jersey still faces a predicament when it comes to tobacco use among children and teens.
Tobacco companies are doing all they can to put tobacco into the mouths of kids. They now offer mini-cigars and cigarillos at lower prices—3 for $1.00—and flavored tobacco that especially appeals to younger taste buds. Compounding the problem, retailers promote tobacco with oversized and often flashy advertising. Too often, the stores and their ads are within walking distance of schools, enticing youths to try some gummy bear, cotton candy or chocolate tobacco products.
“Research shows that advertising and promotion at the point of sale increase youth and adult tobacco use, normalize and exaggerate the popularity of tobacco use, trigger impulse purchases and discourage cessation attempts,” said Kim Burns, Southern Regional Coordinator for Tobacco Free for a Healthy New Jersey.
Tobacco Free for a Healthy New Jersey, a grant from the New Jersey Department of Health, Office of Tobacco Control, Nutrition and Fitness, prompted an assessment of advertising and product availability in tobacco retail stores as it relates to the youth of NJ communities. A primary focus of the survey was to identify trends that attract youth.
Burns and representatives from the Get Healthy Camden initiative, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, The Food Trust, and the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services surveyed 94 tobacco retailers to assess tobacco advertising in Camden City tobacco retail establishments. “Store assessments are essential in building awareness and documenting tobacco industry activity in the community,” Burns explained.
Among NJ communities, Camden significant hurdles. The survey found that throughout NJ, 70 percent of tobacco retailers sell flavored tobacco products, but in Camden City, virtually all—99 percent—sell flavored tobacco products. Of the city’s 163 tobacco retail establishments, 86 are within a-quarter mile of a school.
“We have to transform the retail environment in order to address tobacco-related health issues. Tobacco control strategies, such as those that restrict tobacco retailer density, price discounts and the sale of certain products, can counter these trends by decreasing access to tobacco products and exposure to the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics,” Burns said.
In Camden City, the participants in the tobacco assessments, have formed a workgroup—Tobacco-Free Camden—under the Get Healthy Camden initiative. Valeria Galarza, Senior Project Manager with Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, has been working with Camden City to develop their local Board of Health. Once the Board becomes operational, the Tobacco-Free Camden workgroup will present best practices for them to consider in Camden City. These include:
1. Limiting the percentage of all advertising, not just tobacco advertising,
2. Restricting new tobacco retail stores, and
3. Restricting flavored tobacco products.
Restricting advertising, regardless of content, is known as “content-neutral restriction.” Some communities adopt content-neutral restrictions at the point-of-sale for the quality of life and aesthetic reasons, explaining that reductions in signage, especially when paired with enforcement of litter, graffiti and related laws, make communities safer, more appealing to residents and more desirable for businesses and consumers.
“Our goal,” said Burns, “is to educate the Board, retailers and the community about the impact of advertising and flavored tobacco. Once we create understanding, we hope they will see the impact that a change in policy could have in Camden City.”