When Florida’s stores are the front lines of tobacco control

We as Floridians are encountering something that kills an average of three Floridians an hour, every hour of every day. It kills an estimated total of 32,300 Floridians each year.   It’s being colorfully promoted and is readily available at a place you visit frequently – your local convenience store or gas station. It’s tobacco products like cigarettes, dip and chew. And tobacco companies spend billions of dollars a year to market these addictive products at the “point of sale” – retail locations where tobacco products are sold. They increased advertising dollars at the point of sale by more than 28% in just one year.  When it comes to recruiting new youth to use tobacco, studies show this tactic has been effective – the likelihood of starting can more than double for youth who visit a store with point-of-sale tobacco ads at least twice a week. 

Tobacco executives view youth as “replacement smokers,”  the next generation of customers replacing those lost by the leading cause of preventable death in our state and our nation.  To attract new youth smokers the tobacco industry continues to evolve the market with new products, like electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn devices.

E-cigarettes are not safe, especially for youth and young adults. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a dangerous and addictive chemical. E-cigarette companies market their products by promoting flavors, including many that are especially appealing to youth. According to the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report on e-cigarette use among youth and young adults, flavors were the leading reason for youth e-cigarette use.  Though the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of flavored pod or cartridge-based e-cigarettes, new, disposable products (like Puff Bars, Stig and Smok) popular among youth are not covered under that policy. By evolving product design to get around FDA regulations, the e-cigarette industry is continuing to disregard the best interest of communities. Further, while the FDA policy bans mint flavored e-cigarettes, menthol flavored e-cigarettes can still be sold. 

The frontline in the ongoing work to save these lives is at the point of sale. What is the Tobacco Free Partnership of Union County doing to counter act the millions of dollars being spent marketing cigarettes and other tobacco products, often at retail locations next to our schools?  In partnership with Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Youth, we are addressing Big Tobacco’s marketing tactics at the point of sale with awareness activities in our community. This includes community education through presentations, gathering data through store surveillance and educating the community via ads in local media outlets.  SWAT’s ‘Not A Lab Rat’ campaign on e-cigarettes gives youth a voice to educate and raise awareness about the long-term effects that marketing, and advertising has at the point of sale. In Union County, about 1 in 4 youth (ages 11-17) currently vape or use another toxic tobacco product. Through our education efforts, we hope to gain champions to ensure our youth are not lab rats and that their health is not an experimentation with new emerging products. If you’d like to learn more or join and be a champion for change for Tobacco Free Union or Union County SWAT Chapter, call Jenna Jewett at 904-769-9647 or email at [email protected].

Jenna Hewett 

Tobacco Policy Manger