Youth recruited as ‘replacement smokers’


An estimated 32,300 Floridians die each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

To replace those lost customers and lost revenue, tobacco companies are recruiting youth as replacement smokers.

Last week, a new federal law raised the legal age to purchase tobacco to age 21. This is a big step in a positive direction. However, we still have a lot of work to do to protect our youth. 

In recent years, tobacco companies increased their annual advertising dollars at the point of sale – the store, by more than 42 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Studies show this tactic has been effective especially with young people. If a youth who visits a store at least twice a week and if that store has tobacco advertising, the likelihood of the youth starting to use tobacco can more than double. 

In addition to enticing shoppers to use addictive cigarettes, dip and chew by marketing at retail locations, the tobacco industry continues to evolve the market with new products, such as electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes). 

Many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive, and have a variety of harmful chemicals. They are also marketed by promoting flavors, including many that are especially appealing to youth. 

That point of sale is the front line in the ongoing effort to save lives. 

Multi-prolonged effort

The Department of Health in Volusia County is working to counter the marketing of tobacco products in convenience stores and gas stations. 

The agency is championing the development of tobacco retail licensing to: reduce youth access to tobacco, ensure compliance with other tobacco-related laws, and reduce the negative public health effects associated with tobacco use.

It’s a multi-pronged effort in Volusia County. Currently nine Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) clubs in Volusia County are educating the community and elected officials on point-of-sale marketing tactics. 

Several SWAT clubs have met with their city councils and are working toward adopting tobacco retail policies in those cities. Tobacco Free Volusia, a local partnership has been educating local decisionmakers on the issues. DOH-Volusia staff visit schools to share the dangers of nicotine and the tobacco companies’ advertising tricks to target youth.

All three of these groups have been monitoring retailers to assess the point-of-sale environment to collect data and put this information in the hands of policymakers. 

Reviewing the tactics

When assessing the retail environment, they are looking for promotional tactics that need to be addressed. They include tobacco product placement near items kids are attracted to and the types and placement of advertisements and tobacco displays. 

The wording and placement of age of sale signs also is reviewed. 

Recently Ryan Helmes, a Youth Advisory Board Member, participated in a panel in St. Johns County to educate community leaders from Volusia and all surrounding counties on the positive impacts of tobacco retail licensing, the dramatic increase in the use of electronic cigarette by youth, and the harmful nature of those devices. 

If you would like more information on the Tobacco Free Volusia Partnership or if you are interested in joining the effort to curtail tobacco marketing to youth, please visit VolusiaHealth. com/tobacco or email

Patricia Boswell is the administrator for the Department of Health in Volusia County.



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