Big Tobacco doesn’t wait for a kid to grow up. They know that the younger someone starts to use tobacco, the harder it will be to quit. Nearly 90 percent of people who smoke start before they turn 18.14 Targeting young people is an effective strategy, since teenagers’ brains are still developing and vulnerable to the highly addictive nicotine present in all tobacco products.15
Stores That Sell Tobacco:
The New BattlegroundBut that’s nothing compared to what Big Tobacco has done to the average small grocery, convenience store or gas station, where the “powerwall” displays of tobacco brands, strategic product placement, price promotions that drive down the cost of tobacco, and countless varieties of candy-flavored tobacco products are designed to be irresistible to young people who are new to smoking. The industry knows that 70 percent18 of teens shop in convenience stores at least once a week, and it’s ready for them—and their younger siblings. Billboards and TV advertising may be a thing of the past, but Big Tobacco simply shifted their cash into corner stores and groceries, where they now spend more on advertising than they did before the industry was regulated: About one million dollars per hour, nationwide.19 Studies show stores located near schools have more exterior ads for tobacco than stores farther away, while stores where teens shop more frequently have more cigarette marketing than others in the same community.20 Inside, kids and teens are bombarded with relentless point-of-sale signs, and tobacco products are routinely displayed at a child’s eye level or near the candy. Finally, Big Tobacco drives down the price of a pack of cigarettes with targeted promotions and payments to retailers that make it inexpensive to light up.
Tobacco companies can’t market their products to kids.
Among Oregon 8th graders, half feel that it would be easy to get tobacco if they wanted to.
The majority of 11th graders (80 percent) feel the same.25
Easy Access To
Tobacco and Free SamplesA majority (80 percent)21 of Oregon high school juniors say they can easily get tobacco, and the most frequent source is their friends who are over 18.22 These are young adults, who also are targeted by Big Tobacco, in part because kids emulate them and want to copy their behavior. The industry lures these new customers by giving away samples of tobacco, a practice known as “sampling.” Tobacco companies collect personal information from young people at sampling events and follow up by mailing coupons to their homes. Washington State and many cities in California completely prohibit tobacco sampling, but Oregon only prohibits sampling to people under 18 years old, and there are no limits on sampling of e-cigarette liquids. Sampling is particularly widespread at e-cigarette shops across the state. (More restrictions apply to smokeless tobacco: Free samples may not be given to anyone under the age of 21 or distributed in any area in which people under the age of 21 are allowed).23 Nevertheless, without further restrictions on tobacco sampling, Oregon will remain the tobacco industry’s test market of choice on the West Coast—and Big Tobacco will continue to target young Oregonians.
Tobacco products other than cigarettes are not a significant threat to Oregon teens.