A study released by the Contra Costa Health Department on Wednesday shows that alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy foods are being promoted to the county’s youth at alarming rates, especially in poorer cities.
The data, which comes courtesy of a statewide survey, shows that 77 percent of stores near county schools sell tobacco products in kid-friendly flavors, like cherry and watermelon.
Youth in the county’s lower-income areas, like Richmond and Antioch, are targeted more aggressively and have a larger number of liquor and tobacco shops near schools than do affluent suburbs of Danville and Walnut Creek, the study shows.
“We have flavored cigarillos being sold three for one dollar across the county,” Daniel Peddycord, Contra Costa Health Services' Public Health Director, said in a statement about the study’s findings. “These products clearly appeal to youth. The candy and fruit flavoring makes the tobacco more palatable to a new smoker, and the price is right for youth without a lot of money to spend.”
The cigarillos Peddycord references are commonly called “blunt wraps” or “swishers.” A previous study found that Swisher Sweets, a brand of cigarillos, are becoming increasingly popular among teens. The small cigars are also popular among marijuana smokers, who replace the tobacco with pot.
The survey, conducted as part of Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community, a 10-year statewide campaign to improve the health Californians’ health,
included information from more than 200 retailers near schools in Contra Costa during the spring of 2016. Its findings also showed that more than 75 percent of stores sold alcopops, a generic term referring to sweet alcoholic drinks like Four Loko and Smirinoff Ice.
"There's a perception that alcopops are less harmful than other alcoholic beverages, which is absolutely not true," said Fatima Mata Sol, Contra Costa Health Services' Alcohol & Other Drugs Program Chief, in a statement. "We need to make sure youth and their parents understand the risks associated with drinking alcopops. Youth are our most precious resource, and we should support policy strategies that prevent access by youth."
Some county leaders have been pushing for the adoption of policies that regulate the sale of tobacco products and pack sizes of cigars. The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in 2016 directed its public health staff to draft policies designed to achieve that goal.
In California, voters have already approved raising the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21, and the price of cigarettes is set to rise next month after a voter-approved increase was passed in November.
Still, more can be done to protect youth, according to Mary Jaccodine, co-chair of the Contra Costa Tobacco Prevention Coalition.
"The results from this survey clearly point to the need for the community to work together to protect Contra Costa youth from tobacco influences," she said.