(Daily Press (Victorville, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 07--Marketing unhealthy products to children is all too familiar in American culture, and a new study suggests retailers in San Bernardino County may be exploiting this technique at a greater frequency than the rest of the state.
According to the study, there is a higher rate of stores in the county than the state average that sell candy-, mint- and liquor-flavored non-cigarette tobacco products near schools.
Organized by the state and conducted by each county, the survey -- which highlights the availability and marketing of tobacco, alcohol and food products in stores -- collected data from more than 7,300 retailers. Stores that were pooled from include convenience, supermarket, liquor, tobacco, small market, discount, drug and big-box stores, according to a county news release.
"We have made a lot of strides in recent years but, as these survey results show, the tobacco industry and other companies offering unhealthy products are continuing to find new ways and new products to entice our youth, like flavored cigars which are the same price as a pack of gum," county health officer Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare said in a written statement. "These are being marketed throughout our county, many times in stores just a few blocks from schools."
The four-month study found that 87 percent of stores in the county are selling flavored non-cigarette tobacco products and are located near a school. Results also found that 44.6 percent of stores sell tobacco products near candy at the check-out counter.
Electronic cigarettes were also found to be prevalent in stores around the county, with the number of stores that sell e-cigarettes quadrupling in the past two years from 11.5 percent to 45.7 percent, according to the release.
"The popularity and prevalence (of e-cigarettes) could undermine the great work we've done on tobacco use in California," Ohikhuare said.
Different alcohol products being sold by retailers also have county officials worried. Research indicates that 90 percent of the stores that sold alcohol also sold "alcopops" -- alcoholic malt-based fruity flavored beverages known to be appealing to under-aged drinkers.
Beyond tobacco and alcohol products, the study did extensive research on the availability and promotion of unhealthy and healthy food options, finding a high frequency of stores advertising unhealthy food products. According to the study, more than 76 percent of stores have outside signs advertising unhealthy products, in comparison to 12 percent of stores that advertise healthier options. In addition, only 30 percent of stores sell fresh fruits and vegetables.
"Most adults seem to be desensitized to the unhealthy advertising and products in stores," Kori Lemoine, a youth participant in the data collection process, said. "But we need to all stop and notice how many unhealthy messages are surrounding kids every day."
The county claims that the study is California's first in-depth analysis of the effect of tobacco, alcohol and food marketing.
The survey was done in collaboration with Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community -- a campaign to educate the public about the harmful effects of unhealthy products and marketing.
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