Press Release: Survey Analyzing Tabacco, Alcohol and Food in Stores — efforts underway to improve health through retail store offerings — The First and Largest Survey of its Kind in California Analyzing Tobacco, Alcohol and Food in Stores
Mendocino County Health & Human Services Agency Program Specialist Katherine Fengler supervised youth over the summer of 2013 to survey stores for the “Healthy Stores for Healthy Communities” campaign sponsored by the California Tobacco Control Program. The State Department of Public Health last week released the results of surveys of 7,300 diverse retail stores in all 58 counties * including convenience, supermarket, liquor, tobacco, small market, discount, drug and big-box stores * with the goal of shedding light on what tobacco, food and alcohol products are available and promoted in California communities. Nearly 700 public health representatives, community volunteers and youth participated in the survey across the state. “Some of the Mendocino County results surprised the youth I worked with” Fengler said. Only 5 of the 72 stores surveyed had healthy product exterior advertising. Almost 90% of stores sold chewing tobacco, compared to the state average of 56%. And 88% of stores sold candy, mint, and liquor-flavored non-cigarette tobacco products, often costing the same or less than a pack of gum. “Youth who did these surveys noticed that these non-cigarette tobacco products (like Swisher Sweets) are readily displayed near the cash registers, within easy view of all consumers, including youth. They were concerned about the low cost and sweet flavors of these products, which even they thought were enticing.” And they noticed the prevalence of e-cigarettes in 40% of stores, and the lack of regulation in advertising for them, since they’re not considered “tobacco products,” even though they do deliver the addictive drug nicotine to the consumer. Statewide, the number of stores selling e-cigarettes quadrupled in the last two years, to 46% in 2013. Survey results also show that 99% of stores surveyed sell alcohol products and of those, 93% wine coolers, otherwise known as alcopops, which often look and taste like soda. Alcohol ads are placed three feet and below or near candy or toys at 64% of stores. In terms of food availability, one third of stores have a selection of good quality fresh fruits and vegetables, as measured by the standardized survey instrument. Mendocino County stores far exceeded the State rate for providing healthier low or non-fat milk: 80% of Mendocino stores sell it, compared to only 37% across California. 72% of Mendocino County stores surveyed place sugary drinks near the check out. “As adults, we’re desensitized to the unhealthy advertising and products in stores,” said Tarney Sheldon of North Coast Opportunities Community Action, who promotes healthy eating. “But research shows that kids are highly influenced by marketing of products like tobacco, alcohol and junk food * even more so than by peer pressure.” What’s available affects food choices too, Sheldon said. “When people don’t have access to nutritious food, they eat less nutritious food which is linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.” Some local stores are choosing to partner with local public health efforts to make sure that fresh produce and healthier beverages are promoted in their stores, according to Sheldon. For example, the Ukiah Raley’s management team has begun partnering with a local teen-led group to place healthy advertising promoting fruits and vegetables throughout their store. Raley’s has also begun to place fresh fruits by each checkout aisle so that the healthy choice is the easy choice for last-minute, impulse buys. “The good news for Mendocino County,” Fengler stated, “is that all the retailers we spoke with during the survey were positive about making healthy changes in their stores. Some expressed concern about the impact of unhealthy product advertising, especially upon children.” Stores are taking positive steps. CVS Pharmacies just announced that they will no longer sell any tobacco products. A local store, Westside Renaissance Market in Ukiah, is committed to keeping tobacco products out of sight, and has no unhealthy product advertising. Its shelves are stocked with fresh food, and healthy, local products. “California is a state known for promoting health consciousness,” concluded Fengler. “That’s especially true of Mendocino County. We’re looking forward to working with our local stores to change the face of the retail environment, and to make the healthy choice a little bit easier to make.” The Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community statewide campaign * formed by tobacco prevention, alcohol prevention and nutrition advocates working in collaboration * aims to improve the health of Californians by informing them about the impacts of unhealthy product marketing in the retail environment. Stores and retailers are partners in making the retail environment a healthier place for residents to shop. For state, regional and county specific data and more information on Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community, visit www.HealthyStoresHealthyCommunity.com ( http://www.healthystoreshealthycommunity.com/ ). Mendocino County Tobacco Control is a program of the Health and Human Services Agency, funded by California Tobacco Control Program and Proposition 99.