Joe Camel’s turf threatend |

Joe Camel’s turf threatend

Greg Risling

The sender is the tobacco companies and the message is “buy our product.”

An anti-smoking group is taking their fight to store merchants this Friday in an attempt to reduce displays that targets adolescents.

“Operation Storefront” is a statewide program that has been adopted by the South Lake Tahoe Tobacco Coalition, which enlists the help of young and old alike. Four teams comprised of one adult and two high school students will comb liquor stores and markets for tobacco advertising. Nineteen stores, which represent nearly half of the stores that sell tobacco products in South Lake Tahoe, will be included in the one-day effort.

After compiling the information from the various stores, coalition representatives plan to return sometime in May to see what progress has been made by store owners. A survey will be handed out for state statistics and if the owners have complied with the merchant agreement, they will be given a complimentary clock that reads, “We Love Kids,” illustrated with a heart.

“Tobacco companies talk about smoking as being cool and hopefully this effort will dissuade young people from doing it,” said El Dorado County Health Educator Betsy Lucas. “This program will put another chink in the armor for kids who want to continue to smoke.”

State and city laws already prohibit those under the age of 18 to purchase cigarettes and any other smoking paraphernalia. South Lake Tahoe has eliminated cigarette vending machines from public places and the state requires store clerks to ask for identification from anyone who looks under the age of 27. But some adults feel that advertising is highly influential to minors who consider taking a puff as the “cool” thing to experiment with or indulge in. Teens are twice as likely to be swayed to smoking by advertising and promotion of cigarettes than they are by pressure from peers and family members, according to the American Cancer Society.

“I learned recently that children by the age of 3 know who Mickey Mouse and Joe Camel are,” said Catherine Owens, who is an AmeriCorps intern assisting with “Storefront.”

“I’m a parent and for the longest time I didn’t know how much of an impact this had on children.”

Placerville’s tobacco prevention coalition conducted “Storefront” on March 22 and 80 stores were visited by the anti-smoking teams. In some of the stores, cigarette advertising was next to youth-oriented items such as baseball cards and candy. According to Placerville Health Department representative Sharon Vogan, a similar effort was done in 1995 with minimal results and this time Vogan said clerks weren’t aware of advertising’s impact on today’s youth.

“Stores cleaned up a little bit back in 1995,” she said. “Many were surprised with how much cigarette advertising was actually in their store.”

Store owners may shy away from eliminating cigarette advertising because vendors pay them for displaying illuminated signs, racks and stickers. Unfortunately for the coalition they can’t offer any money to local stores.

“We’d like to appeal to the merchants’ higher sense,” said Lucas. “They can contribute to a healthier community.”

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