ELIZABETHTOWN — Kendra Gertsch is doing all she can to stop people in the tri-county region from smoking.
The senior public-health educator for Adirondack Tobacco Free Network regularly visits places that sell tobacco products to ask that they keep them behind the counter.
Gertsch said Siena Research Institute did a telephone survey for the network last summer that showed 15 percent of Essex County residents smoke, 22 percent in Clinton County and 18 percent in Franklin County.
“Over half of all the residents surveyed in Essex County support a point-of-sale initiative, (meaning) they want to see those tobacco not sold in stores located near schools, and they also want to reduce the visibility of those tobacco products.”
The survey found that 66 percent of tri-county residents don’t believe tobacco products should be sold in stores near schools and that 57 percent think tobacco products shouldn’t be visible in stores.
The point-of-sale displays in stores are where young people are targeted to become smokers, she said.
“They use power walls,” Gertsch said. “These are the brightly displayed walls that you’ll see in convenience stores, often behind the counters or at eye level right where the children can see them.”
Tobacco companies use discount coupons to get people to try cigarettes and give retailers promotional allowances to showcase their brands, she said.
Tobacco companies have a lot of money to spend on marketing, she said.
“They are creating more ways to make these products more appealing to you.”
“Kids think it’s cool to smoke when they see (cigarettes) being advertised like this,” Gertsch said, “and kids also think that they’re immortal, that they aren’t susceptible to any of the tobacco-related illnesses, and they also think if they smoke one cigarette, they won’t be addicted.”
She said that, to the contrary, about 3,500 children try cigarettes every day, and about 1,000 become smokers.
“If you ask a smoker today when was the first time that they tried a cigarette, most of them will say before the age of 18.”
That’s why the network’s point-of-sale initiative is so important, she said.
“We want to protect our children. We want to reduce that youth exposure to the in-store tobacco marketing, and this is where we need support from our communities. We want to educate community leaders. We want them to pass the word on to family, to co-workers.
“We want to mobilize the community and reach out to the convenience stores and get them on board to reducing that visibility of the tobacco marketing.”
Gertsch said several supermarket chains are on board in the network’s point-of-sale initiative.
“Price Chopper, Hannaford and now Tops Markets, they’ve all reduced the visibility and promotion of tobacco advertising, and you can see that they are not struggling at all; they’re still prospering.
“We’d like to get mom-and-pop stores involved, too.”
She said licensing and zoning laws are the most long-lasting strategy against smoking. Municipalities can pass laws regulating advertising and display of tobacco products.
“It’s just like the Clean Indoor Air Act, where we thought businesses were going to go out, they were going to close their doors, but actually they are all prospering; they are doing even better than before. People like that they can go into a restaurant, into a bar, and they can breathe easier.”
Essex County Senior Public Health Educator Jessica Darney Buehler said reducing tobacco point-of-sale displays is something they’ve been working on with the Tobacco Free Network.
“When it is prominently displayed for everyone to see, it is a visual cue. We want to reduce the visibility of it. We really want to reduce the visibility for youth and people who don’t smoke.”
She said they’d like to expand their list of cooperating businesses.
“We’d be interested in seeing some business owners who want to work with us,” Buehler said. “Corner stores, small merchants, grocers, pharmacies, who are aware of the impact of point-of-sale. We can work with them on a strategy to reduce that visibility.”
“We are not trying to target smokers,” Gertsch said. “We’re just looking to reduce the second-hand smoke exposure. We are trying to reduce the youth tobacco rates.
“Many of us have family members, we have children, grandchildren, and we don’t want to see them smoking.”
Email Lohr McKinstry:firstname.lastname@example.orgFUNDING The Adirondack Tobacco Free Network is funded through a grant awarded jointly to Essex, Clinton and Franklin counties and is based in the Clinton County Health Department in Plattsburgh. Reach the network: 565-4993.