Healthy Choices

Public health officials express alarm over the sale of tobacco, e-cigarettes and liquor near schools

Four out of every five stores in Sacramento County sell candy-flavored cigarillos for less than $1, about the price of a pack of gum, according to a study released Wednesday.

The practice is under fire for enticing young adults and teens to try new nicotine products, with the aim of getting them hooked on tobacco or other habits, such as e-cigarettes.

The findings were part of new data released by health advocates from Eureka to Escondido. Throughout California, nearly 700 public health workers and volunteers scoured the state’s more than 7,300 retail outlets, including grocery, convenience, big-box and other stores, for information on the availability of tobacco, unhealthy and healthy food products in each of the 58 counties.

In Sacramento County, the survey results showed that 85 percent of stores sell cigarette-like products in candy, mint and liquor flavors.

“These are being marketed throughout our county, many times in stores just a few blocks from schools,” said Kimberly Amazeen, vice president of programs and advocacy for the American Lung Association in California. “We must all be educated about how the places we shop are influencing unhealthy behaviors.”

Twlia Laster is the program manager of the Saving Our Legacy Project, African Americans for Smoke Free Safe Places. She said, “Cigarillos are available in kid-appealing flavors such as grape, watermelon, cherry and chocolate. It’s not surprising that our kids are drawn to these products that look more like candy than a deadly product and are available at very cheap prices.”

Also alarming public health officials is the finding that e-cigarettes are widely available in Sacramento County retail outlets. More than 62 percent of the stores surveyed sell the product – the second-highest concentration in the state. Statewide, the proportion of stores selling e-cigarettes nearly quadrupled in the last two years, from 11.5 percent to 45.7 percent in 2013.

“This is yet another highly addictive product that is being aggressively marketed and showing up in retail stores,” said Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County public health officer. “The popularity and prevalence could undermine the great work we’ve done on tobacco use in California.”

The survey also found that 17 percent of stores are within 1,000 feet of a school; 74 percent of stores sell chewing tobacco; 44 percent of stores sell tobacco products near candy at the checkout; nearly 72 percent of stores sell sugary drinks at the checkout; nearly 80 percent of stores sell alcohol.

Public health officials signaled it is time to begin a dialogue with retailers so they replace unhealthy offerings with more healthy foods such as low-fat and nonfat milk, and fruits and vegetables, particularly at stores near schools.

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