WASHINGTON — Flanked by photos of California convenience stores plastered with cigarette advertisements, three House members released a new study Wednesday that suggests that tobacco companies are deliberately targeting point-of-sale promotions at teen-agers.
The study, prepared by the California Department of Health Services, says that convenience stores, liquor stores and small grocery stores typically display more than 25 tobacco advertisements, some affixed to storefront windows and others lining aisles and checkout counters. The study notes that many of the ads are placed beside candy displays, particularly in stores near junior high and high schools.
The study was released by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who chaired a House panel with jurisdiction over tobacco sales before Republicans took control of Congress in January, and two other advocates of tighter restrictions on tobacco: Reps. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).
The three legislators cited recent statistics showing that smoking among eighth-graders jumped 30% from 1991 to 1994. Durbin noted that about 3,000 American youths take up the habit every day.
One reason for the increase, Durbin said, is "the onslaught of tobacco ads and promotions aimed at hooking them on cigarettes and other tobacco products." The California study, he said, "confirms what we've known for years--that tobacco companies are going after America's kids with a vengeance."
The study, which was released simultaneously in Washington and Los Angeles, is based on a survey of 5,000 retail stores in 52 California counties during March and April. It found that a typical convenience store contains 27 cigarette promotions. That contrasts with an average of 10 in drugstores.
A tobacco industry spokesman took issue with the study's findings, denying that retail store promotions are targeted at children. "This is an attempt by three anti-tobacco representatives to put more pressure on the White House to regulate the industry," said Walker Merryman, vice president of the Washington-based Tobacco Institute.
Merryman said that the comparatively large number of tobacco ads in neighborhood stores is attributable to the fiercely competitive market for adult smokers.
"The [stores] sell a lot of cigarettes," he said. "It makes absolute, intuitive sense that you are going to advertise where the customers are. The convenience stores' own survey shows that 96% of their customers are adults."
Lindsay Hutter, a spokeswoman for the National Assn. of Convenience Stores, said that the study findings are not that surprising.
"Tobacco products represent 27% of convenience store sales so it's natural that they are going to have a large advertising presence, " Hutter said. "We are catering to our customers who are buying those products. It's a convenience issue. It's not a marketing strategy."