“By the time most people get to 10th grade, they have already decided whether they smoke or not.”
This quote came from a focus group done with Middle Park High School students. We are fighting a battle in Grand County. A battle against Big Tobacco.
There are at least eight tobacco retail shops in Granby, which is considered a “tobacco swamp” by Counter Tools, a website that tracks alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana retailers. A tobacco swamp is defined as more than 1.5 retailers per 1,000 people. With Granby’s population of approximately 1,800 people, that would be the equivalent of living in five tobacco swamps — all in our small family friendly town.
While national smoking rates have been steadily declining over the last several years (including youth cigarette smoking decreasing from 18.1 percent to 15.7 percent), there has been no change in cigar smoking or smokeless tobacco use. We are also seeing a push for smokeless tobacco in the form of E (electronic) cigarettes.
Because e-cigarettes are so new, the FDA has been unable to put provisions in place for these products or their marketing. Perhaps you have seen ads with celebrity endorsements, seen the colorful, flavorful displays, specifically marketed toward our youth. From 2011-2012 e-cigarette experimentation and use doubled among U.S. middle and high school students, according to the 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Tobacco remains the deadliest consumer product, killing more people than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murder and suicides combined. The 2011-2013 Grand County Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows approximately 28 percent of 11th and 12th grade males used smokeless tobacco products in the past 30 days. Non-cigarette and nicotine products are a very present danger to youth well-being in our community. But what can we, as Grand County citizens, do about it?
Although alcohol and cigarette retailers are required to obtain a license to sell these products, non-cigarette retailers are not required to do so. Requiring these businesses to obtain a license would hold retailers accountable for selling tobacco and nicotine products to minors, and would provide local police enforcement and compliance checks to monitor selling activities. Grand Futures Prevention Coalition can also train retailer staff so they are familiar with the local and state tobacco laws.
In 2011, almost 20 percent of Colorado youth said their tobacco source was buying in a store/gas station (19.2 percent, from the 2011 State-wide Healthy Kids Colorado Survey). The Grand County Healthy Kids Survey noted more than 50 percent of high school students said it would be “very easy” to obtain cigarettes. With the passage of this ordinance, we can provide local enforcement to assure minors are unable to purchase nicotine products.
Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S., and if current trends continue, more than 6 million U.S. kids alive today will die prematurely from tobacco-caused diseases (Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids). In Grand County from 2011-2013, only 51 FDA observations were done of the 37 retailers county-wide. During that time there were three separate violations in Granby alone, and as a first offense the retailer gets a warning letter. No fine. No penalty. Just a letter.
Let’s take a stand against kids using tobacco and require retailers to obtain a non-cigarette tobacco retail license (N-CTRL). Help our youth stay N-CTRL by going to our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/grandcountynctrl our website at www.grandfutures.org/dev/supportnctrl or by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-887-9655.
Megan McCord is director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.