Del Norte shoppers are finding fewer sugary drinks and tobacco products near the cash registers of their favorite stores, according to new data released by the state last week, but the data also shows a high amount of tobacco and alcohol advertising near candy or toys or three feet from the ground.
The Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services teamed up with the Crescent City Police Department Explorers Post last summer to survey 24 local stores, including supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores, mini marts and big-box stores.
The youngsters visited each store and noted the location and position of the tobacco and alcohol ads, said Melody Cannon, the department’s program manager. They also noted the location of ads marketing sugary drinks as well as where those products were placed, she said.
“The state has found that one-third of underage experimentation with smoking can be attributed to advertising,” Cannon said. “That’s why it’s so very important. It’s simple awareness.”
The canvassing effort was the local component of a larger statewide campaign, Healthy Stores Healthy Community, which is part of the California Tobacco Control Program. More than 7,300 stores statewide were surveyed.
According to the local survey, out of 24 stores, 75 percent have unhealthy exterior advertising with 43.5 percent advertising alcohol near candy and toys or positioning them three feet above the ground. More than 60 percent of the stores surveyed advertised alcohol products outside.
At the state level 71 percent of the stores that were surveyed have unhealthy exterior advertising with 36.7 percent advertising alcohol near candy and toys or three feet above the ground. About 54 percent advertised alcohol outside of their buildings.
However, the percentage of stores with good-quality fresh fruits and vegetables in Del Norte County is about the same as the state’s, according to the survey. And 50 percent of the stores surveyed in Del Norte County sold good-quality fresh fruits and vegetables in low-income areas, compared to 30 percent at the state level.
“There are less sugary drinks at the check-out lines, less use of alcohol in the last 30 days by youth and (fewer) tobacco products near candy at check-out lines,” said Gary Blatnick, director of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Now that the first survey has been completed, Blatnick said the county will embark on an education campaign in July to try to convince retailers to change the way they place advertising. This may result in an appearance before the Crescent City Council and Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, but Blatnick said that would be a final step.
“Based on prior experience when addressing the issue of tobacco sales, we first did an educational campaign with the retailers and we informed them because they actually were already subject to state fines and sanctions,” he said. “There were some outliers who didn’t understand that and we did eventually go to the Board of Supervisors and an ordinance was passed that had some additional local sanctions for retailers that were selling tobacco to minors.”
Blatnick added that if enough retailers get on board with the campaign, a local ordinance may not be necessary. He said he didn’t know of any proposed laws at the state level governing the placement of alcohol and tobacco ads in retail stores.
Future surveys will be used to track the campaign’s progress, Cannon said.
The education campaign will take three months and will be part of a statewide effort to “create a healthy retail environment in communities throughout the state,” according to a Department of Health and Human Services press release.
For more information about the statewide Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community campaign and to look at more local statistics, visit www.healthystoreshealthycommunity.com.