According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tobacco kills 480,000 people in the United States each year, remaining the number one preventable cause of death. Ninety percent of smokers start using tobacco regularly by the time they are eighteen. Each day in the United States, more than 3,200 youth ages 18 years or younger smoke their first cigarette, and an additional 2,100 youth and young adults become daily cigarette smokers.
Sarasota County Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) youth continue taking a stand to stop youth from getting hooked on deadly tobacco products by educating decision makers about tobacco product marketing at the retail point of sale. The tobacco industry uses marketing tactics such as lower prices, flavored products, and eye-catching ads to appeal to youth.
“Big tobacco continues to target youth in stores all around us,” said Sarasota County SWAT member Sachit Gali, “As students we hope the City of Sarasota Commissioners take action to protect us by increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21.”
SWAT youth surveyed 177 stores throughout Sarasota County in 2016 to understand the tobacco products being sold and how they were being marketed. Based on the survey results all convenience stores within a half mile radius of schools had cigarette and/or e-cigarette advertisements on the outside of the building. Fifty percent of the stores had price promotions on tobacco products which make these products more affordable for youth, and can include discounts such as buy one get one free offers.
Public opinion mirrors SWAT youth’s desire to see change at the local level. More than 300 Sarasota City Residents were surveyed about potential strategies to address marketing and promotion of tobacco products in the retail environment. More than 80% of those surveyed wanted to increase the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21. According to the Truth Initiative raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21 can decrease the risk of addiction among youth. The Truth Initiative states that adolescents are more susceptible to becoming addicted to nicotine which can have long-term effects on their brain because the brain is not fully developed until age 25.
In December 2017 and January 2018 SWAT youth met with former City of Sarasota Mayor Eddie and each City of Sarasota Commissioner individually to discuss survey results and provide education about tobacco products at the retail point of sale in Sarasota. The SWAT youth discussed the issue, overall concerns, and public opinion. Images of maps were used to clearly show the locations of schools in relation to tobacco retailers.
Following those meetings, SWAT youth surveyed 84 residents at events at Ed Smith Stadium and Siesta Key Beach. 94% of those surveyed agreed that local governments should be allowed to limit the amount of Tobacco advertising that targets youth.
On April 2, 2018, two SWAT members again presented information at a Sarasota City Commission meeting. The seven-minute presentation included information on the Point of Sale Public Service Announcement that Sarasota County SWAT youth created and parts of a strong local tobacco retail license which can include limiting advertising of tobacco products, banning the sale of menthol tobacco products, and increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
“We hope the Sarasota City Commission takes a vital step to protect youth in Sarasota,” said Gali.
A 30-second public service announcement featuring SWAT youth was shown in movie theaters in Sarasota during March. To view the video, visit www.swatsc.com.
Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) is Florida’s statewide youth organization working to mobilize, educate, and equip Florida youth to revolt against and de-glamorize Big Tobacco. SWAT is a united movement of empowered youth working towards a tobacco free future.
For more information on the SWAT program please visit our statewide website at www.swatflorida.comyou can also see what Sarasota County SWAT is doing by going to www.swatsc.com.