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San Benito County Health and Human Services Released a Report this Week Showing that children are targeted by alcohol and cigarette makers. The following summary outlines the report’s findings and recommended action steps:

This is the first time in California that tobacco, alcohol and foods were analyzed together in stores. More than 7,000 stores in California that sell tobacco were surveyed in all 58 counties. We were looking at the product marketing and the availability of healthy and unhealthy options offered, specifically tobacco products, junk foods, sugary beverages and alcohol, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables and milk. The store surveyed included convenience, supermarket, liquor, tobacco, small market, discount, drug and big-box stores.

“We were surprised that we were higher than our neighboring counties, as well as the state percentage in many areas. This information compliments the Healthy San Benito Initiative (HSBI) report in the sense that 50% of our restaurants in San Benito County are fast food. 76.3% of adults in San Benito County are overweight or obese as compared to 58.4% in Santa Cruz and 62.4% in Monterey Counties. State average is 59.8%,” said Samela Perez, Public Information Officer for the San Benito County Health and Human Services Dept.
“These findings also building into the next phase for HSBI-strategic planning. My hope is that we can allocate time to submit a grant for this phase. Public Health recently received a grant from SNAP-Ed to conduct a three year nutrition and physically fitness education program in the day cares, schools and community. Regarding smoking rates, Public Health will be working with local retailers to address storefront advertisement, promotions and we are currently proposing to establish policy limiting or eliminating the sale of e-cigarettes in our community. In July 2014 Public Health plans to resurrect a youth coalition with representation from various other clubs in the county to specifically address these issues.” 

The goal of the campaign is to improve the health of Californians by educating consumers and retailers how marketing practices influence consumption of unhealthy products, and assist in making the retail environment a healthier place for our residents. The Issue Stores in our communities play a critical role in our health. They not only impact the economic well-being of neighborhoods, but also the physical health of the people who visit them. The types of stores we have in our community, the types of products available in the stores and how they’re promoted influence us all, but especially our kids. Many of these products, like junk food and tobacco, contribute to lifelong chronic health issues. Over the years, the tobacco industry has funneled BILLIONS, not millions, into convenience stores to promote their products. It’s no coincidence since convenience stores are popular with kids and research shows their ads influence our kids to smoke. (2) In the community, our kids are passing by ads which influence them to live unhealthy lives – they are being encouraged to smoke, drink alcohol and eat junk food. Stores and retailers are not the enemy. They are our partners in providing health and like to our communities.

Tobacco use is still the No. 1 cause of preventable death and disease in California. • 17.6% of adults in San Benito County smoke as compared to 15.8% in Santa Cruz and 10.8% in Monterey counties. 13.8% of adults smoke statewide. • 10.7% of youth in San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties smoke as compared to 10.5% of youth (grades 9-12) statewide. Tobacco companies are focusing their advertising and promotion in the retail environment – this puts children at risk. Scientific evidence shows that kids who make at least weekly visits to stores that sell tobacco are more likely to smoke than their peers. (8) More than 480,000 people die prematurely each year in the US from smoking, which includes nearly 34,000 Californians. Nearly all smokers start before they’re 26 years old – these are our kids who are starting a lifelong addiction to a product that will take years from their life. E-Cigarettes It’s alarming to see the increase in popularity and use of e-cigarettes (these products include e-hookah, e-pipes and e-pens) in San Benito County, especially when very little is known about them. E-cigarettes are not a proven alternative to smoking. • In San Benito County 48.7% of stores sell e-cigarettes as compared to 34.3% in Santa Cruz and 30.6% in Monterey counties.

The number of stores selling e-cigarettes has quadrupled in just two years statewide-from 11% in 2011 to more than 45% in 2013. We are very concerned about e-cigarettes and fear that they will undermine social norms that support tobacco-free environments. Smokeless Tobacco Products More local communities are adopting smoke-free air laws. Tobacco companies have been promoting smokeless tobacco products as an alternative to smoking, especially for use in areas where smoking is banned.

Since 1998, smokeless tobacco marketing has skyrocketed by 277 percent to $547.9 million in 2008 (Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids, 2012).

• Chewing Tobacco was found in 89.7% of stores in San Benito County as compared to 60.4% in Santa Cruz and 53.7% in Monterey counties. 56.1% is the state average. Flavored Tobacco Products, Little Cigars & Placement near Candy Tobacco companies are trying to hook younger customers by selling tobacco products for under a buck (e.g., cigarillos). 78% of stores in California sell Swisher Sweets, the most popular brand of cigarillo, for 99 cents or less.

• In San Benito County 93.5% of stores sell single cigarillos for under $1. 10.7% of our youth in San Benito County smoke products like cigarillos.

Smoking is not just the only health issue facing San Benito County.

• 51% of stores in San Benito County sell tobacco products

• 41% of youth used alcohol in the past 30 days compared to the state average of 35%

• 76.3% of adults in San Benito County are overweight or obese as compared to 58.4% in Santa Cruz and 62.4% in Monterey Counties. State average is 59.8%

What can we do?

California remains committed to bettering the lives of Californians by: • encouraging smokers to quit; • educating Californians on the harmful effects of secondhand smoke; • and protecting young people from the influence of tobacco product marketing in stores in our community.

• Working together, we can help improve access, purchase and consumption of healthy, affordable foods in our community, including in grocery stores located in food deserts. Through a healthy store environment, with activities and promotions, retailers can show their commitment to customers’ health, which increases loyalty and even helps drive sales. At the same time, shoppers benefit from eating affordable and healthy options. Our coalition members and public health educators will be reaching out to each and every one the 47 store owners, managers and employee’s to share these findings and encourage them to take an active role in making our community a healthier place to live.

The only way positive change will occur is through a partnership. To view the full report, go to: