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Report shows that tobacco companies target young and communities of color in Solano County
April 22, 2021
SOLANO COUNTY – Today, state and county researchers released a report featuring findings from a survey conducted at Solano County’s tobacco retailers. The study reveals the tobacco industry has ratcheted up their marketing, pushing more flavored and menthol products that pose a threat to young people and vulnerable communities.
Solano County topped the list for menthol cigarette sales among California counties, with over 96 percent of retailers stocking mentholated products, compared to 88 percent statewide and only 17 percent in San Francisco, where menthol is highly regulated.
“Solano County—one of the most diverse counties in the country—has become a leading target of the Tobacco Industry,” says Kirbee Brooks, MPH, CHES, Solano County’s Tobacco Prevention Project Coordinator. “Big Tobacco aggressively promotes menthol cigarettes, particularly among communities of color and the young. Mentholated tobacco products are typically aimed at people of color and our youth because menthol temporarily masks the harshness of tobacco smoke, making it easier for new users to get hooked.”
This is particularly clear when one examines the study’s marketing data. Nearly 40 percent of retailers market tobacco in kid-friendly locations, and even more—nearly 80 percent—display unhealthy storefront ads. All told, every Solano County tobacco indicator was higher than the statewide average.
This data comes from the third Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community survey, which is conducted every three years as part of ten-year initiative by the California Department of Public Health, California Tobacco Control Program and Solano County Public Health. Researchers examined 8,000 retailers statewide, including 191 in Solano County.
In addition to menthol, surveyors also investigated six additional indicators of tobacco sales and marketing. They found that more than 90 percent of Solano-based retailers sell flavored, non-cigarette tobacco products, including newly released products like chewable pouches, recreational nicotine gum, e-cigarettes and vape liquid. A similar number of stores offer cigarillos (little cigars) by the pack—half even sell loose cigars and cigarillos. All these products are popular with younger individuals and are predominantly targeted toward African American communities.
“The tobacco industry continues to reinvent itself and its products to appeal to new customers,” says Robin Cox, MPH, CPH, Solano County’s Health Promotion & Community Wellness (VibeSolano) Bureau Chief. “They strategically target specific communities of color and lower economic areas with products that, when used as directed, kill. Despite decades of progress, the industry continues to imagine new ways to remain profitable, with the true cost being our community’s health. Solano County is working closely with the community and local retailers to address this disturbing practice.”
In fact, to assist retailers in moving in a healthier direction, County Public Health staff have offered up a broad menu of policy options that local jurisdictions, advocates and/or business owners can choose from to address menthol and flavors, including implementing a tobacco retail license, restricting the location of tobacco retailers away from schools, limiting the number of retailers, removing coupons, sales and promotions, and eliminating flavored tobacco, mentholated cigarettes and e-cigarettes—all while helping retailers find profit-making healthier alternatives.
“I can’t imagine a better time to have the store survey data in hand,” said Nafiza Khan, Co-Chair of Tobacco Free Solano, a coalition of community leaders and volunteers. “Within days of Governor Newsom’s signature making SB 793 (the statewide menthol and flavors ban) law, Big Tobacco filed a referendum delaying implementation until voters weigh in in 2022.”
“It's our job to stay one step ahead,” she continued. “That means we must fight locally to reduce menthol and other flavors in our community now. Each day of delay means another young person addicted to tobacco. It means more lives lost due to COVID-19 because tobacco causes or exacerbates many of the underlying health conditions that lead to complications.”
Solano County residents can learn more about the risks of menthol cigarettes and review all the study’s findings, at www.wearenotprofitsolano.org.