News Shows middle school aged child at convenience store counter purchasing a candy bar. On the counter are CBD vape liquids and lighters. Behind the counter is a large display of tobacco products.

Published on January 20th, 2022 | by Burlington Partnership


Introducing Our New Interactive Story Map of Burlington’s Adult Retail Impact

Using Community Design and Local Policy to Improve Health and Safety

Click to see our Building a Healthier Burlington Story Map!

Have you ever thought about how the promotion and location of retailers that sell adult-only substances can impact the health of a community? If the answer is no, you aren’t alone—most people haven’t. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis industries from trying to entice adolescents and young adults to use their products by advertising in local communities. Did you know that the Tobacco Industry spends an estimated $14.2 million a year on advertising to Vermonters alone?

Why is this a problem?

The earlier people start using substances, the more likely they are to develop problem use. In fact, 90% of people who develop a substance use disorder started using before the age of 18. At the community level, promotion and easy access to substances has been shown to increase high-risk use and the development of substance use disorders (addiction). The substances that kids almost always start with are alcohol, tobacco and cannabis because they are more accessible and often viewed as safer. Moreover, use of these substances is normalized in the media and often in communities. For example, studies have demonstrated that children are more likely to smoke when they live or go to school in neighborhoods with a high density of tobacco retailers, and often communities of color and/or low income neighborhoods have more retail density, leading to greater health inequities.

With support from the Vermont Department of Health, our coalition gathered data on all the alcohol and tobacco retail licenses in Burlington. We looked at how they advertised and placed products:

Did they have ads under 3 feet high? Were alcohol or tobacco placed within 12 inches of youth-friendly products like toys, candy, or gum? Were there advertisements on the outside of the store?

We looked at the impact of location:

Is the store close to a school or other youth centers? Are many retailers close together, potentially giving the impression that substance use is frequent? Are there more retailers in low-income areas? Alarmingly, 7 of the 11 schools in the Burlington School District are within 1,000 feet of at least one retailer that sells alcohol, tobacco, or CBD.

A few years ago we worked with Burlington youth to take pictures of advertising or product placement that they would like to see changed. Then we pulled it all together to launch this interactive, Burlington-specific website with maps, visuals, and data that can help policy makers and community members protect youth and cultivate a healthy and equitable community. The website includes evidence-informed recommendations to improve local policies that can help reduce underage use and excessive use by adults.

Please connect with us to get involved in our efforts to reduce youth substance use rates in Burlington. We’d love to hear your suggestions for using this new tool to support improvements in our community!

Click to check out our Building a Healthier Burlington Story Map!

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