Photo: Courtesy of the California Department of Public Health
A survey released last month by Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community highlighting the availability of healthy and unhealthy items in stores throughout California revealed areas where Long Beach has improved and where it still has room for improvements.
The survey is a statewide effort conducted by a number of groups with aims of preventing tobacco and alcohol abuse as well as the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and increasing nutritious options. The goal of the survey is to improve the health of residents of the Golden State through changes in community stores and by educating residents on the effects in-store marketing can have on purchases.
The Long Beach Health and Human Services Department was one of over 60 local and county health departments that took part in the survey which collected data from over 7,100 stores in 58 counties statewide. That included 133 stores in Long Beach that sell tobacco products. The survey was conducted in the Summer of 2016.
The survey found that 78 percent of Long Beach stores sold cigarillos but only 33 percent of the stores surveyed sold fresh fruits. Additionally, Long Beach saw a 10 percent increase in stores that sold e-cigarettes since 2014. Of the stores surveyed, 74 percent advertised unhealthy products on their storefronts versus just 7.5 percent advertising healthy products.
“We know that stores play a critical role in our community’s health,” Long Beach Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said. “The Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community survey gives health officials insight into the current state of healthy and unhealthy advertising in retail settings, tobacco availability, and particularly unhealthy advertising that targets our children.”
Compared to the rest of the state, Long Beach actually stacks up pretty favorably when it comes to the smoking rate with tobacco usage in the city (10.7 percent) being outpaced by the state’s rate of 13.8 percent. However, the city has higher rates of stores near schools selling tobacco products (36.3 percent) than the rest of the state (30.6 percent) and has a larger number of stores in low income areas of the city that sell tobacco products (40.3 percent) than the rest of California (31.2 percent).
The survey collected no data on Long Beach’s percent of adults who live in food deserts, percent of youth under age 15 who drink or binge drink or the percent of adults who are overweight or obese.
However, the percent of stores selling sugary drinks at the check-out counter dropped 17 percent with sugary drink storefront ads also showing a minor decline.
It showed that alcohol prevalence is still a health concern in the city with the only categories Long Beach improved in were those involving malt liquor sales. The number of stores surveyed that sold alcohol increased from 2013 (54 percent) nearly two-thirds of stores in 2016. The number of stores selling flavored alcohol beverages (70.5 percent) bested the state’s average and over half the stores surveyed had alcohol ads near candy or toys, or below three feet.
Nearly 80 percent of stores were found to sell condoms but Long Beach’s gonorrhea rate (206.2 for every 100,000 people) was much higher than the statewide average of 138.9 for every 100,000 persons.
The survey showed the number of tobacco products being sold in the city actually increased in nearly every category since 2013 except cigarillos, both packs and singles, which declined by 3.4 percent and 34.9 percent respectively. One hundred percent of stores near schools were found to sell Swisher Sweets—flavored cigars, often repurposed to wrap marijuana in —for less than a dollar.
Director of Health and Human Services Kelly Colopy said the findings of the survey were both concerning and instructional as they provide a snapshot of where the city is currently.
She pointed out that although youth sales of tobacco have declined—7.9 percent of stores sold to youth in December according to a survey carried out by the city’s health department— that 90 percent of people who begin smoking begin before the age of 18 and the survey found that advertising and access are still issues in Long Beach.
“The survey gives us a snapshot of where we are today and where we can make improvements to lessen the disparity between healthy and unhealthy options available in many of our communities,” Colopy said in a statement. “We are committed to making Long Beach a healthier place to live for all our residents.”
Things that could further drive down youth tobacco use are a combination of policy changes in the state and the decision by CVS Pharmacies to stop selling tobacco altogether. In 2016 the state passed two laws that changed the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 and required e-cigarettes to be treated as a tobacco product. The passage of Proposition 56 in November which added a $2 tax per pack of cigarettes could also serve as a deterrent.