The Roundup -

Scavenger Hunt for Local Tobacco Marketing Towards Youth Raises Marketing Concerns


On a blustery Friday in late February, members of Richland County Communities in Action Corps set out to try a point of sale Scavenger Hunt offered to youth groups by Richland County Health Department's Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program. The Hunt is designed to view tobacco at store counters from the perspective of children in the community, and showcase ways tobacco is being specifically targeted to youth. Many of these displays are shipped to stores with instructions for assembly and location, and breed familiarity and curiosity of customers at a young age.

The members met at a local gas station in Sidney and began their search. Each had a clipboard with a list to search for of tobacco marketing techniques often aimed towards youth. Members were surprised how quickly they found relevant marketing. The group learned many long-term tobacco users begin using as youth. Often tobacco products, including flavored wraps, lighters, and cigars, are displayed below three feet off the ground, in front of the counter, a height inconvenient for adult customers but perfect to spark the imagination of children. That was the case in this store. Among the tobacco products displayed at three feet or lower were a host of flavored cigarillos, with candy flavors such as watermelon, grape, strawberry, and peach. Nicotine gum was also readily available on the counter not far from candy chewing gum.

In total, the Scavenger Hunt in the local Sidney store yielded 12 of 14 marketing techniques that have been shown effective in sparking children's interest in tobacco. Jacklyn Damm, coordinator of the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program in Richland County, said such results are not unusual. "Groups involved in the Scavenger Hunt usually find almost all of the marketing to youth present locally," she lamented.

Is this type of tobacco marketing really affecting Montana kids? Data shows it is. Tobacco companies spend as much as $24 million each day to prompt people to use their products. According to Center for Disease Control data, 38.5% of Montana high school youth reported currently using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes. That number is up from 27.3% in 2011. Damm reports that she is hearing more and more about the spread of e-cigarettes and vaping devices in Richland County and getting calls for help quitting these new devices. E-cigarettes are the most frequently used form of tobacco among Montana's youth.

Indeed, during the recent Scavenger Hunt, the Communities in Action Corps group was amazed by how much of the "power wall" display behind the counter was now devoted to e-cigarettes. One Sidney resident told the group about young friends who started out vaping with only flavors, but had shifted quickly to tobacco-based liquid. According to Jacklyn Damm, this trend is especially dangerous, as the effects of this new kind of tobacco smoking are only beginning to be understood.


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