I visited my local King Soopers grocery store recently, and paused to observe the tobacco display that I walk past every time I’m in the store. The large, well-lit glass-front case extends from about 7 feet down to about 18 inches off the floor – placing the colorful cigarette packages at eye-level for any child old enough to walk. But that’s not all! Immediately adjacent to the tobacco case is a 25-cent gumball machine and the penny-per-ride “horsie.” Could this be an accident or oversight on the part of management?
Feeling more than just a little curious, I asked the manager on duty about the display, pointing out the eye-level placement of the tobacco and the nearby child-magnets. He smiled pleasantly and nodded as I spoke, but offered no suggestion that things could or would be changed.
Tobacco companies rely on community retail partners to help them sell tobacco to children. They know that almost no one starts smoking as an adult: more than 90% of smokers become addicted before the age of 18, some starting as early as 8 years old. Getting children hooked on nicotine is key to big tobacco’s ongoing profitability.
Here are just a few of the underhanded strategies they use:
- Offering smokeless tobacco products (“dip” or “chew”) in self-serve displays near candy, gum, and snacks; these products are offered in enticing fruit, mint, and other flavors that appeal to children.
- Displaying tobacco products within easy reach of children, and reimbursing store owners for losses due to shoplifting.
- Placing signs at kid eye-level with cartoon-drawings, purportedly to forbid underage tobacco use, but actually to enhance the perception that tobacco is “grown up” and underage use is rebellious or defiant.
- Offering toys (again placed at kid eye-level) as premiums with tobacco purchases to cause kids to “lobby” their parents into buying the tobacco product so that they get the toy.
- Displaying tobacco in movies and television programs, particularly in PG-13 movies, of which more than 80% show tobacco use.