Convenience stores in Allegany County, New York, are plastered with tobacco advertising. That’s what Reality  Check youth from Fillmore Central High School discovered in their recent Kick Butts Day store tour.

Teen leaders  honored the national day of activism, sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and celebrated annually in March, by investigating 20 convenience stores in their communities. They will compile their observations and photos in a presentation they’ll give to their local Drug Free Coalition on World No Tobacco Day in May. 

What, exactly, did they see?

In one store, a big window ad for cigarettes was placed outside, inviting the community in for everyday low prices on a product that is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. And get this….the poster displayed just to the right of the cigarettes is touting everyday low prices on peanut butter eggs and kisses, every child’s fave Easter treats.

Another mini mart featured chewing tobacco savings on a counter decal within inches of an Easter Bunny Pez dispenser pack. No fooling.

Yet another store has a well-lit Coca-Cola cooler abutted directly to a cigarette display case. Did we mention that it’s PACKED with the brightest shades of cigarette packs of multiple brands?

As parents and youth leaders, our team here at Tobacco-Free Western New York find this very concerning. Who wants their kids thinking that smoking, vaping or chewing tobacco is the cool thing to do? Something to purchase (and enjoy) with a peanut butter cup and a cold beverage?

Reality Check youth were shocked by the numerous examples of tobacco promotion tucked in with products typically bought by kids. Their goal is to help raise awareness and encourage community members to stand up in support of reducing youth exposure to what they say is deceitful marketing by the tobacco industry that attract kids.

There is overwhelming evidence that the more young people see tobacco marketing, the more likely they are to start smoking or vaping, according to a U.S. Surgeon General Report,  which also calls smoking among youth a pediatric epidemic.

Findings on youth tobacco use and tobacco industry marketing in places where children and young adolescents can see it indicate:

  • The average age of a new smoker in New York is 13 years old, and 90 percent of adult smokers say they first tried smoking by age 18.
  • The U.S. tobacco industry spent an estimated $9.5 billion on advertising and promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco in 2013. This includes nearly $220 million annually in New York State, or nearly $602,000 a day.
  • Stores popular among adolescents contain almost three times more tobacco marketing materials compared to other stores in the same community.

What do you see in stores in your community? More important, what do your kids see?