To the Editor:
Over the past few months I have worked with the St. Lawrence County Tobacco Free Community Partnership to educate the leadership in Potsdam on ways to reduce tobacco use, with a particular focus on area youth. What really sparked my interest in this movement was the Family Dollar’s decision to add cheap cigarettes to their product line during the summer of 2012.
There is no question that there are numerous factors which contribute to youth experimentation with tobacco, not the least of which are peer pressure and having parents who use tobacco. However, another no less important factor is children’s exposure to tobacco marketing in stores. There have been numerous studies that have examined this factor, and whether we choose to believe it or not, and however inconvenient it may be, the evidence is clear. Time after time, the studies show that tobacco product marketing in stores provides cues to smoking, influences smoking initiation among youth, and stimulates purchasing among smokers trying to quit.
With the addition of Family Dollar to the list of tobacco retailers there are now six more locations in St. Lawrence County where children will be exposed to the large cigarette displays at the checkout counter. Making matters worse, a recent press release by Dollar General says that they, too, plan to add tobacco to their list of product offerings. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the reason these discount retailers are entering this market is because they know their customers buy more tobacco products than the general public. Their decision adds another half dozen retail locations where children will be exposed to tobacco marketing.
Another unfortunate development came to my attention when I entered one of the new Nice-n-Easy locations in the Potsdam area. Had I not been attuned to the tobacco display issue I may have not even noticed the large display on the counter of flavored little cigars and other products, positioned directly at the eye level of young children. Who do tobacco companies think will be interested in these products? It’s no accident—according to this year’s Surgeon General’s report these grape, cherry, and other candy flavored products are intentionally marketed at the eye level of a child. This is something that our elected leaders have some level of control over and I hope that they will at least look into the issue on behalf of our children.
By now I am sure that most people know that St. Lawrence County has a much higher rate of tobacco use than the rest of New York State. We need to do all that we can to prevent kids from becoming the “replacement smokers” that the tobacco industry is fighting so hard to attract. All of us need to ask ourselves, “Don’t we have a responsibility to help prevent our children from becoming addicted to the only legal product that, when used exactly as the manufacturer recommends, kills half of its long-term users?”
Amy Murphy, Potsdam