In her Sept. 10 column, “UAlbany study: Poor nutrition and smoking might be linked”: Sarah Foss writes, “It shouldn’t be easier to get cigarettes than vegetables.” That’s a pithy observation of a reality with deadly consequences.
The UAlbany research study points to a proliferation of stores that sell tobacco products in neighborhoods with the highest poverty rates. In the city of Schenectady, this translates into 96 tobacco retailers, or 1.5 for every 1000 residents, three times the number per capita as in Niskayuna with only 12 tobacco retailers, or .5 for every 1000 residents. It is no mystery why the smoking rate in the city of Schenectady is more than twice that of New York state.
The 2012 Surgeon General’s Report on Preventing Tobacco Use concludes that when tobacco is more available and visible in a community, the people who live there are more likely to smoke and more likely to experience tobacco-related illness and disease. Neighborhoods overrun with tobacco products and tobacco marketing make it easier for young people to start smoking and harder for current smokers to quit. Studies have directly linked higher neighborhood tobacco retailer density with higher odds of ever smoking.
Additionally, stores located in low-income neighborhoods offer more discount brands and price promotions, driving down the price as far as is legally allowed. These stores also market menthol products, cigars and cigarillos more heavily than stores in higher-income neighborhoods. The cigar and cigarillo products being sold especially appeal to teens because of their typically sweet flavoring, colorful packaging and inexpensive prices. Menthol cigarettes lead to increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults, greater addiction, and decreased success in quitting smoking.
In Schenectady County, there are eight libraries, 41 parks, 53 schools and 166 tobacco retailers. Residents deserve to live in an environment that supports health. Reducing the presence of tobacco is a proven strategy to make neighborhoods healthier places to live, learn, work and play.
The writer is Community Engagement coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Communities.
Editor's Note: This letter has been corrected to include accurate information in the second paragraph about tobacco sales in the city of Schenectady.