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Ninety-Four Percent of Teens Exposed to Tobacco Ads in Stores

February 6, 2013

RICHMOND- A new survey of more than 6,400 Virginia residents statewide finds that 94 percent of teens are exposed to tobacco advertising in gas stations and convenience stores. According to the survey conducted by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth’s volunteer high school action group, Y Street, 88 percent of teens responding rated the presence of tobacco ads in convenience stores and gas stations as “noticeable” or “very noticeable.”

Y Street volunteers conducted the survey of 6,438 Virginia residents (including 3,750 young people under the age of 18) in 352 communities statewide as part of Y Street’s CounterBalance Campaign, which aims to protect Virginia’s young people from point-of-purchase advertising of tobacco products. Y Street teens are using the survey results to write letters to CEOs of convenience stores and gas stations asking that they post tobacco-use prevention signs in prominent locations in their stores. They have also collected and will send more than 11,000 post cards of support from community members asking 7-Eleven, Shell, RiteAid, Sheetz and Wawa stores to place tobacco-prevention awareness signs at their checkout counters. 

The CounterBalance Campaign survey results will be formally announced at a press conference to be held Feb. 6 at 2:30 p.m. at Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth.

“National research shows that one out of three kids who have tried smoking say they were directly influence by tobacco advertising,” said VFHY Director of Marketing Danny Saggese. “The more often youth are exposed to tobacco ads, the more likely they are to start smoking. We have found through our own campaign research that these tobacco ads are frequently placed at a height of around three feet, which is roughly eye level for a 10-year-old.”

High school students volunteering for VFHY’s Y Street group assessed the advertising in 233 unique stores across Virginia and found that 50 percent of the stores contained what were deemed as high levels of tobacco advertising and the other half of stores featured a moderate level of tobacco advertising.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, Saggese noted, and most lifelong smokers tried their first cigarette as underage teens.

Among the CounterBalance Campaign survey’s other findings:

  • Nine out of 10 youth visit a store where tobacco products are sold at least once a week. Thirty-six percent of respondents visited such a store two to three times per week.
  • Eighty-seven percent of respondents believe stores should post warnings about tobacco’s health effects.
  • Eighty-one percent of respondents believed that young people are exposed to tobacco advertisements within their communities in Virginia.
  • Four out of five respondents do not approve of tobacco ads being placed within a mile of a school or playground.

Y Street was named the top youth advocacy group for tobacco-use prevention in the nation in 2011 by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. One of VFHY’s multiple marketing strategies, Y Street is a statewide association of high school youth advocates who work to create positive social change through projects designed to educate community members about the benefits of healthy, active living and the detrimental effects of tobacco use.

Rescue Social Change Group, a VFHY contractor, conducts Y Street trainings and assists Y Street volunteers with facilitating projects in cooperation with VFHY staff.  Rescue SCG is a marketing agency that works exclusively for agencies that advance positive social changes among young people, such as prevention campaigns for drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

Y Street teens conducted surveys for the CounterBalance Campaign from March 2011 to July 2012. The survey findings are based on a sample of convenience, not a random sample.