Stores selling e-cigarettes, vaporizers, hookah products and marijuana are too appealing to youth. That’s the take-home message from a 14-year-old Vancouver boy who spent the last few months surveying his peers and adults about the retail shops.
Andrew Weakley, an eighth-grader at Vancouver iTech Preparatory, and other teens involved with Strong Teens Against Substance, Hazards and Abuse, participated in a community assessment of Clark County retailers, focusing on the advertising and marketing of e-cigarettes, vaporizers and marijuana.
Weakley took the project one step further and expanded the survey. He recruited 51 people to participate, 39 of whom are youth. The participants visited the retail shops (minors didn’t enter) and rated the shops’ location, appearance, advertising and overall feeling. A total of 477 surveys were completed for 23 stores.
Weakley presented his findings at the spring Prevent Coalition of Clark County meeting Thursday afternoon. Prevent is a substance abuse prevention coalition.
“Location, location, location,” Weakley said. “All of the shops are located right in front of youth eyes.”
The surveys revealed that many of the retail shops were located in places where youth frequent, Weakley said. One local smoke shop is in a shopping complex with a pizza shop and a game store. A retail marijuana store is located near a grocery store and another is next to a bicycle shop. E-cigarette kiosks are in the mall, Weakley said.
The shops that scored the highest (least favorable) in the assessment also had buildings that were inviting to youth, such as bright or colorful lights, advertisements and big storefront windows allowing kids to see the merchandise on display. At some shops, vaporizers, pipes and bongs could be seen from the sidewalk, Weakley said.
“These advertisements are actually trying to grab kids,” Weakley said. “It’s their intention.”
The retail shops that scored the lowest had storefronts that were less flashy, he said, such as plain brick buildings with no windows or advertisements. The marijuana stores with employees checking IDs at the front door also scored lower, Weakley said.
Weakley also offered up some recommendations, based on the findings from the community assessment and participant feedback.
One important change that could be made, he said, is to restrict the shops to industrial areas where young people aren’t constantly walking past the storefronts.
Marijuana shops can’t have advertisements; those restrictions should be extended to all shops, Weakley said. And marijuana stores are the only ones of the shops reviewed that require licensing. Weakley wants to see hookah and vape shops licensed, as well.
And, finally, Weakley suggested increasing the legal age for vaporizers to 21, in line with the drinking age.
Weakley is presenting his findings this spring at a statewide youth substance abuse prevention summit, as well as for a handful of local organizations.
Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; email@example.com; twitter.com/MarissaHarshman