A recent survey of local retailers highlights smoke-free advocates concerns about stopping more youth from using tobacco.
The survey, conducted last year by Tobacco Free Montgomery County, found that Crawfordsville-area stores are more likely than businesses across the state to sell flavored tobacco products, which are heavily used by teens.
The coalition partnered last year with the Montgomery County Health Department for the nationwide Standardized Tobacco Assessment for Retail Settings, which randomly surveyed 35 Indiana counties.
The survey looked at what tobacco products are sold and how they were advertised in 42 local retailers including convenience, liquor and grocery stores, tobacco shops and pharmacies.
The results will be shared at a virtual community conversation planned sometime in March.
All of the Montgomery County businesses had flavored tobacco products on the shelves, compared to the state average of 92%, the survey found.
Tobacco and menthol-flavored products were not included when the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of fruit-and-mint flavors for e-cigarettes and vaping products last year. Advocates have called on the FDA to expand the restrictions.
In 2014, 53.4% of middle school tobacco users and 64.6% of high school tobacco users reported using flavored tobacco, according to the Indiana Youth Tobacco Survey.
“I would actually say it’s probably even higher than that, so most high school students are using vapes are tobacco products that are menthol or some other flavor,” Montgomery County Tobacco Coordinator Autumn Clark said Thursday during a virtual meeting of the coalition.
The survey also found that local youth are targeted by in-store tobacco advertising and placement at about the same rate as the other counties. The assessment looked at products advertised at a child’s eye level or placed within a food of candy, soda, chewing gum or toys.
Selling low-priced or single cigarillos also makes it more appealing for teens to use tobacco, advocates say.
The legal age to buy tobacco products is 21. Bills introduced in the Indiana Senate would make it a Class C infraction to sell or distribute tobacco, e-liquids or an electronic cigarette without verifying the customer’s age with scanning technology or an automated software system.
In other efforts, Tobacco Free Montgomery County has completed surveys at local apartment complexes and is looking to assist some in enacting tobacco-free policies.
Clark has met with the West Central Indiana Special Service Cooperative’s school mental health specialist to discuss tobacco cessation options.
The coalition is also working to connect more area offices to the Indiana Tobacco Quitline (1-800 QUIT NOW), a free phone-based counseling service.