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Date published: 2/11/2013
RICHMOND--Teenagers participating in Virginia's youth-smoking prevention campaign are sending letters and postcards to the top executives of some major retail and convenience stores asking them to place tobacco-prevention awareness signs in their stores.
The letter-writing campaign grew from a survey showing that most young people in Virginia regularly see point-of-purchase tobacco advertising in stores and consider it highly noticeable.
"The more often kids are exposed to tobacco ads, the more likely they are to start smoking," said Danny Saggese, marketing director for the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, which is overseeing the youth-led effort called the "CounterBalance Campaign."
About 400 teenagers, mostly high school juniors and seniors, conducted the survey over a 15-month period in 2011 and 2012. Those students are among roughly 1,000 active members statewide in the foundation's "Y Street" group, a youth leadership program in which students volunteer to help promote healthy lifestyles in their communities.
The survey of 6,438 Virginia residents included 3,750 younger than 18. Of those, 88 percent said tobacco ads in convenience stores and gas stations are "noticeable" or "very noticeable" to them.
Eighty-seven percent of survey respondents said stores should post warnings about tobacco's health effects.
The students also got about 11,000 Virginia residents to sign postcards to be sent to retailers urging stores to put up smoking-prevention awareness signs to counterbalance tobacco advertising.
The suggested messages on the store advertising would include information on the health effects of tobacco use and the phone number for the state's stop-smoking quit line.
"These are just suggestions," Saggese said. "Hopefully [the stores] will take the initiative and voluntarily place ads near the counter, to help counter the significant number of tobacco ads that are already in the store."
The letters and postcards are being sent to executives with 7-Eleven, Shell, RiteAid, Sheetz and Wawa stores, the foundation said.
"We certainly support their efforts" to curb youth smoking, said Monica Jones, a spokeswoman for Sheetz Inc., which has 59 stores in Virginia. She said the company would need to see the letters and review the requests before making a decision.
"We strictly enforce access to tobacco as a responsible retailer, and we card anyone that looks younger than 18," she said.
Margaret Chabris, spokeswoman for Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc., said the convenience store chain keeps tobacco products behind the counter and has a comprehensive program to train store personnel to prevent underage sales.
Created by the General Assembly in 1999, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth is funded with 8.5 percent of the state's annual tobacco settlement payments. The organization manages a statewide campaign to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use and childhood obesity.