Published on March 4th, 2022 | by Burlington Partnership0
Supporting Burlington Kids to Grow Up Tobacco-Free
Recently we unveiled our newest resource for Burlington, an interactive, Burlington-specific website with maps, visuals, and data to help reduce underage use and adult misuse of substances through improvements to local policy and community design. Over the next few months we will be working with the VT Department of Liquor and Lottery to complete another round of assessments of Burlington retailers so we can update the site with the most current information for Burlington. If you are interested in this work and would like to help, email Mariah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local policy makers are on the front lines of creating policies and zoning that can improve health outcomes for a community and reduce inequities. At a local level we often have a better understanding of our residents’ health needs and lived experiences and can consider local context, and align changes with our own community goals. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic local leaders considered the potential for virus exposure based on the size and design of the community and often made decisions based on the needs of our specific community that expanded on state regulation.
In this post we’ll dig deeper into the impact of just one of the legal substances available in our community, tobacco. There is a lot local policy makers and community members can do to reduce the negative impacts of tobacco, particularly use by youth. Public health and medical professionals in VT have worked hard in recent decades to prevent and reduce tobacco use in our state, with exciting results. We’ve seen adult and youth smoking rates in VT decrease dramatically in the last 20 years, with Burlington youth who report smoking in the last month dropping from 10% in 2009 to 4% in 2019.
Even with the progress we’ve made, smoking still costs our state approximately $348 million in medical expenses and results in about 1,000 smoking-related deaths each year! And electronic nicotine products are threatening a new generation of Vermonters with addiction. At a local level we have reason to be concerned as well. Because the Tobacco Industry is banned from advertising on television, radio, and billboards, they focus their multi-million-dollar advertising budget on infiltrating communities, mostly at the “point-of-sale.” Did you know that the tobacco industry spends an estimated $16.7 million per year marketing in Vermont alone?! Ads and signs for products outside and inside Burlington stores help normalize use and are likely contributing to our current vaping epidemic among young people. Although, have you noticed how the ads fail to mention that 2/3 of tobacco users will ultimately die as a result of long-term use of these substances?
Next time you stop in your neighborhood convenience store look around at the advertising for tobacco brands and products. Did you see signs outside? Did they light up? Were they placed under 3 feet high? (Look at the door.) Were they placed near other youth-friendly products? If you see any of this, there are reasons to be concerned. Research has shown again and again that the more ads kids are exposed to the more positive attitudes about use of alcohol or tobacco they have and the more likely they are to use these substances.
Our community assessments showed that 35.5% of Burlington retailers that sold tobacco and alcohol had advertising under 3 ft high and 20% of stores had products placed within 12 inches of candy, gum, or toys. The impacts may be reflected in our local data.. In just 4 years the number of high school students in our district who reported they are currently using an electronic tobacco product (used in the last 30 days) more than doubled from 11% of teens in 2015 to 25% in 2019 (BHS Youth Risk Behavior Survey results).
Big Tobacco has a lot of power and influence nationally, but at a local level, Burlington can still control where and how much advertising and accessibility to these products we’ll allow in our community. Check out our Healthy BTV Story Map site to see images taken from local shops in Burlington, most within walking distance of a Burlington school. This is not about calling out any one store. We can use ordinances, zoning, and other local policy to show a commitment to healthy, thriving kids and equitable communities over industry profits! The website shares more recommendations and info about how to get involved in creating change.