Look at the photo on the left. What do you see? More than likely, you see a child holding two very different products — a pack of gum and a pack of cigarettes.
Now, what do you think that child sees?
“This was a photographer’s daughter,” said Abby Jenkins, program coordinator of the Tobacco Free Network of Oswego County. The child is four years old and her parent wondered what her daughter would make of the two packages if she was told nothing about them.
“‘Mommy, look! These match’,” Jenkins quoted the parent as reporting.
Look around a convenience store and you’ll see other “matches”. Dip and snuff tobacco in containers similar to candy containers. Containers for tobacco pills that look like containers for Tic-Tacs. Much of it is at eye level, right where youngsters can see it, touch it, and get used to it.
“It’s normalizing it,” Jenkins said of the colorful and familiar packaging. “It’s making it so kids can easily recognize tobacco products as something that’s normal and cool and if they love their favorite gum, why wouldn’t they love something that’s packaged almost identically?”
Patricia Briest, who manages the smoking cessation clinic at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, used to be a nurse practitioner for an Oswego County school district. “We had students who were very affected by point-of-sale marketing,” she said. “If you look at the spit, dip and chew products, they look like Pokemon cards.”
Tobacco Free Network and the American Cancer Society recently visited more than 100 convenience stores in Central New York. They found:
- 90 percent of stores featured tobacco product displays behind the cash register.
- 30 percent of tobacco ads appeared near toys or candy.
- Tobacco ads were found inside 68 percent of stores.
- 15 percent of stores selling tobacco were located within 1,000 feet of school.
In short, said Jenkins, kids are bombarded with ads and marketing for tobacco products.
“It’s kind of in your face,” said North Syracuse school district student Elizabeth Miles. “I do see a lot of kids smoking,” agreed student Caleb Dadey. “They’re definitely attracted to a lot of the (marketing) they see. They just continue to do it because of advertising.”
Jenkins says agencies want parents to understand the issue, to see a convenience store checkout area as their child sees it, and to talk to them about the consequences of tobacco use. The students go further. They endorse methods similar to those used in Canada and Australia, where tobacco products are kept hidden and are only shown when someone wants to make a purchase.
They endorse calls to strengthen the anti-smoking messages on tobacco packages and in TV ads, saying that the shocking and often gross depictions of the consequences of smoking scare young people away from smoking.
And they’d like the colorful packaging of tobacco products to end, even though many other products with health concerns, such as soda, candy and energy drinks, are marketed in the same way.
It’s justified, says Miles, because “it’s the number one product that is known to kill someone in the future.” “I draw the line at a product that is known to kill,” says Dadey.