To the Editor:
Over the past two years the St. Lawrence County Tobacco-Free Community Partnership and St. Lawrence Reality Check have been working to educate the public regarding the effects of in-store tobacco marketing on youth experimentation with tobacco products.
We have received a great deal of support from community groups and organizations as well as school systems and elected officials. Unfortunately, one local chain store has failed to see the value of putting the health and well-being of North Country residents before their bottom line.
A recent decision by Family Dollar seems determined to ignore vital statistics and fly in the face of data in an attempt to turn back the clock to a time when the public was unaware of the damaging effects of tobacco. Though it may be hard to believe, their recent policy changes have resulted in an environment that impresses more, and not less tobacco imaging on our youth.
The five FD stores located in St. Lawrence County have opted to not only sell the products, but to actively promote them with large “low price cigarettes” signage and brand posters outside some of their store locations.
To be fair, this is legal, and the sad fact is that they may benefit from this advertising if we fail to act. They have their own statistics: company documents state that the customers who frequent the Family Dollar stores “over index” on tobacco products. That is another way of saying that people who earn the least are the most heavily impacted by nicotine addiction.
Fortunately, our local elected officials have the power to prevent another “Family Dollar” situation from happening. In 2009 Congress and the President passed the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” which gives local governments the authority to limit the time, place and manner in which tobacco products are marketed.
This essentially empowers our local governing bodies with the ability to prevent retailers from setting up the large tobacco displays we (and our children) see in our local stores.
St. Lawrence County has an uncommonly high tobacco use rate. As of this writing, 27 percent of St. Lawrence County residents use tobacco.
That’s a higher rate than that of West Virginia, the state with the highest tobacco use rate in the nation!
There is no question that there are a number of factors that contribute to youth tobacco experimentation. Children having parents and peers who use tobacco is certainly one of those factors.
However, when it comes to implementing population-based strategies, change in the retail environment has the greatest potential to make a positive impact.
We can make policy changes that will not hurt local business, and which will prevent additional youth exposure to tobacco marketing. Please join us by talking to your local elected officials and reminding them that change is in the best interest of the health and well being of our children.
Benjamin Todd, St. Lawrence County Tobacco Program Coordinator