By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
When it comes to marketing know-how, the tobacco industry is a force to be reckoned with, seemingly always a step or two ahead of efforts to discourage or prevent tobacco initiation among teenagers and children. Tobacco-free initiatives are often working to counter the industry’s latest marketing strategy.
When cigarette sales to minors were banned outright, the industry began marketing candy-flavored tobacco products which, it could be argued, are made to appeal to minors. Tobacco-free initiatives have been working hard to counteract this tactic and educate the community about the addictive nature and health risks associated with all tobacco products, whether candy-flavored, smokeless or otherwise. Tobacco Free Madison and local Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) members, have secured resolutions from the Board of County Commissioners, the Town of Lee and the City of Greenville, encouraging tobacco retailers to consider the benefits of voluntary policy that restricts the sale of flavored tobacco products in their stores. This means that retailers are being asked to consider that if they chose to not sell flavored tobacco products in their stores, fewer youth would be influenced by the marketing tactics of Big Tobacco which means fewer Madison youth will become addicted to tobacco.
Every day, nearly 4,000 minors try their first cigarette, and of those, nearly 1,000 become daily smokers. Successful efforts to keep children tobacco-free until age 18 will reduce their likelihood of becoming adult smokers to around 10 percent.
In 2009, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given the task of regulating the sale of tobacco products. It has added rules and regulations in an effort to make tobacco products less accessible and less appealing to the underage crowd. The effort goes from federal, through the state, right on down to the local level.
Federal law now requires large, readily visible warning labels on all tobacco products and also mandates that vendors check ID for anyone who looks under 27 years of age; vending machines are restricted to adults-only areas, away from children; vendors may not give away free samples of tobacco products, nor may they sell or give away items such as hats or t-shirts with tobacco company logos. They are also prohibited from breaking open packs of cigarettes or other tobacco products and selling the items individually, a practice that would appeal greatly to minors who might not have much money to spend on tobacco products.
State law now specifies the type, location, and wording of signs required within the retail establishment, clearly stating that tobacco sales to minors are prohibited.
At the local level, the Madison County Health Department’s tobacco program has been surveying five local tobacco retailers in Pinetta, Lee, Greenville, and the I-10 area, to determine how familiar they are with the new FDA regulations.
The survey also assessed arrangements the retailers have with their tobacco suppliers. These arrangements often exchange wholesale discounts on tobacco products for prime advertising locations in the store. To counter the influence of tobacco advertising, retailers are being offered tobacco-free functional items and posters to promote resources available to help people quit. One retailer wanted to also provide Quitline information in their break rooms for their employees to help provide them access to tobacco use cessation resources.
In combating the tobacco industry’s advertising clout, Tobacco Free Madison is working at the local level: to build relationships with area retailers to help minimize the impact of tobacco advertising: to educate people, especially youth, about the health risks associated with tobacco use; and to get the word out about the free help available to those who are addicted and want to quit.
A smoker who stands in line at a gas station to buy cigarettes who sees the Florida Quitline poster prominently displayed nearby will know there is free help available should he want to quit. A minor who has no access to tobacco products during adolescence has more time to learn about the harmful consequences of tobacco use and make an informed decision upon reaching adulthood.
In mid-December, Tobacco Free Florida re-launched its website, www.tobaccofreeflorida.com, to help Floridians quit tobacco, with the latest updates on why you should quit and how to go about it.
In early 2012, the Tobacco Free Florida website will also include sections on how you can help others quit.
If you would like to quit, there are several free resources to help you:
Phone: Florida Quitline, 1-877-U-CAN-NOW. A Quit Coach will help you assess your addiction and map out a personalized quit plan.
Online: The Web Coach, www.quitnow.net./florida. You can create a web-based quit plan that’s right for you.
In Person: Contact Preston Mathews, (850) 728-5479. You can sign up for Quit Smoking Now group classes at your local AHEC (Area Health Education Center)
Finally, smokers who don’t manage to quit with their first attempt shouldn’t be discouraged. Nicotine is a powerful addiction, and most smokers have to make multiple attempts or even try different methods before they finally make the break.
The important thing is, there is free help available. Just ask.