Y2Y students were concerned that simulated tobacco products, such as bubble-gum “chew” and candy cigarettes, send youth the message that tobacco use is something that is harmless, positive and normal. Y2Y was also worried that these products may cause a child to associate tobacco use with the positive feelings associated with getting candy and gum. It also creates the risk that kids perceive that adults don’t think that tobacco use by kids is a big deal. The Y2Y students began this project in an effort to get simulated tobacco products voluntarily removed from local stores.
In 2000, members of Youth to Youth went to 20 stores in Dover, New Hampshire to see how much access kids actually had to these types of products. They were able to purchase simulated tobacco products in 7 stores.
The youth were able to find items such as candy cigarettes, candy pipes, gum cigars, and Big League Chew (shredded gum packaged to look like chewing tobacco). The packaging, as well as the design of the products themselves was incredibly similar to real tobacco products.
The Y2Y students followed up their investigation by writing letters to the managers of the stores, to request that the stores voluntarily stop selling simulated tobacco products.
They hand delivered the letters and requested that the stores voluntarily stop selling simulated tobacco products. While delivering the letters, the youth were able to personally voice their opposition to simulated tobacco products. Most managers stated that they either would not, or didn’t have the authority to, remove these items from their shelves.
Some of the reasons managers stated for their refusal to pull the products were: “It’s just candy!” or “It helps adults quit smoking, because it gives them something to suck on”. Some of the managers agreed that the products are sending youth the wrong message, but said they must carry all the products dictated to them by their corporate policy. Some said that they would get in contact with their supervisors to discuss the issue with them.
The students also wrote a press releases and held a press conference to let the community know what their objections were to the sale of these products. The story was covered on the front page of the paper with a color photo of the students with their purchases.
Y2Y students have made a board with real packaging mounted next to the candy simulated products. This board is displayed at events downtown and has been used during presentations to many parent groups in the area.
Most stores resisted eliminating these products when asked to do so by Y2Y members early in the project. However, since the awareness was raised on this issue there has been a noticeable decline in the number of stores selling these kinds of products.
The Y2Y students again went around to every store in Dover to survey which stores sold what kind of items. In general they found less variety of products. Six places sold Big League Chew (shredded chewing gum) – including the concession stand at the Southside Little League Park. On the other hand candy cigarettes were available through only 2 outlets.
One of those, a pharmacy, was selling “candy sticks”. These were available in small boxes exactly like the candy cigarette boxes (although the packaging did not label the product as a candy cigarette) and the candy looked and tasted exactly like traditional candy cigarettes. The students felt they were too close to what kids see as candy cigarettes and wrote the pharmacy a letter asking them to discontinue sales.
The second outlet, a vendor operating ice cream trucks in Dover, was found to be the only merchant selling traditional candy cigarettes. These products were labeled “candy cigarettes” and had the traditional shape and look of a pack of cigarettes (including a fake tax stamp on the top of the pack). A letter was also written to the owners of the ice cream truck, asking them to discontinue sales of these products.
Again stores selling these products were contacted. Southside Little League responded immediately that they were pulling Big League Chew from its shelves and thanked the students for bringing it to their attention. Two other locations also agreed to stop selling those products.
Y2Y students periodically check new stores and return to inventory prior locations to see how common it is to sell candy that looks like a tobacco product. They continue to raise awareness when speaking to community groups and any other opportunities to educate the public.