When you’re traveling around Montana this summer, pay attention when you stop for snacks. Inside most convenience stores, you’ll see the usual items: chips, candy, pop, gum – and tobacco.

Sometimes the tobacco products look so much like candy you and your kids might mistake them for sweets. It’s easy to do. They come in bright shiny packages that reflect candy-like flavors: cherry, strawberry, bubblegum.

The same is true of e-cigarettes and the many sweet flavors of “juice” they contain.

Often, these products are placed near gum and candy, near the checkout counter so that they can’t be missed. And, in many stores, the products are placed within children’s reach and within their price range. Sweet flavored cigarillos, for example, are frequently sold as singles for less than a dollar and are placed on store counters.

Tobacco advertising placed at children’s eye level on store doors and windows are also impossible to miss.

None of this is by chance. Research shows that sweet flavors and in-store displays capture kids’ attention. Big Tobacco is always looking to hook new users and the cigarette industry spends $726 million on product placement in stores.

A U.S. Surgeon General report shows that 70 percent of children visit convenience stores weekly. Many of these places, with their bright displays of tobacco products and e-cigarettes, are located near schools and parks and are popular afterschool and lunch-time stops.

A 2007 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that the more in-store tobacco marketing children are exposed to, the more likely they are to smoke.

This is all of great concern, because such point-of-sale marketing entices children, encouraging them to try tobacco products and e-cigarettes. This puts them at risk for developing a lifelong addiction to nicotine.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2,800 children try smoking each day and 700 become regular smokers.

In Montana, 13 percent of Montana high school students currently smoke and more than 50 percent have tried e-cigarettes. The Montana Youth Behavioral Survey shows that 30 percent of high schoolers currently use e-cigarettes.

The toll on our youth, and on our community health resources, is substantial. Around 19,000 Montana children now under age 18 will die prematurely due to smoking. And $440 million is spent on health care in Montana each year due to smoking.

While some of these products may look and taste like candy, they can lead to the use of conventional cigarettes, nicotine addiction, serious illness and death. Parents, and youth themselves, should be aware of how Big Tobacco targets children.

Kaila Warren is a tobacco prevention specialist with the Tobacco-Prevention Program in Missoula. 

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