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Can't miss them: Local youths evaluate alcohol, tobacco ads

Left to right: Seventh-graders Lindsey Squire and Stacia Hanten and 8th grader Austin Lynum were in one of three groups traveling around River Falls Friday night evaluating different businesses' alcohol and tobacco advertising displays. Debbie Griffin photo

A group of nine middle school students took to the streets Friday night as part of research project conducted by the River Falls Partnership for Youth.

In groups of three plus a chaperone, the kids blanketed the city, checking the tobacco and alcohol advertising displays at convenience shops, grocery stores, gas stations, taverns and the bowling alley.

They examined about 20 places all together, doing bars from the outside only.

RFPY Leadership Team Member and Health Educator for St. Croix County Geralyn Karl said the goal of the research project is to gather data about alcohol and tobacco advertising, then disseminate the compiled information to citizens it would benefit.

"This is the first time we've done it in River Falls," Karl said.

She said the organization asked permission and guaranteed the businesses anonymity.

One group of researchers said they found 57 ads for alcohol in one establishment. In another it found 21 for alcohol and 34 for tobacco.

The Meyer Middle School students recorded on a form the location of the ads and information about whether it was a functional object such as a clock, doormat or trash can. They evaluated whether children would be able to see the displays.

Reporting results

After finishing the research, the group of 12 met for dinner and talked about findings:

Austin Lynum: "I'm doing this to rescue my friends that are already smoking and drinking and to help prevent others from starting. I think I will find convenience stores dominated by tobacco and alcohol ads...My favorite candy was right next to a bunch of beer."

Stacia Hanten: "It surprised me that so many children's items were so close to alcohol and tobacco products."

Lindsey Squire: "It didn't look like there were a lot of ads when you just looked, but when you counted them it was a lot more than what you thought."

Christine Palmer: "It really surprised me how many ads are at a child's eye level. It's so sad."

Amanda Grove: "I want to be an advertising manger when I grow up, so seeing how advertisements affect people interests me."

Taryn Stoder: "People in the world can be clueless. In order to know when something is wrong, they have to be told. Hopefully, we can help with creating awareness.."

Micha Bennett: "Today I learned why you never see tobacco ads on TV anymore. It's because it was suggested that we would match every tobacco ad with an anti-tobacco ad and the tobacco industry said they would rather not advertise at all on TV than have that kind of competition. People are smart enough to stay away from this stuff if we give them a chance such as leveling the playing field when it comes to advertising."

Reduce use

Karl and the researchers said the project supports RFPY's mission: "To reduce substance abuse in River Falls."

She said about the alcohol and tobacco advertising, "It's hard to get away from."

Most researchers were surprised to find so many ads. One said from the outside, it didn't seem like some had many ads, but once inside, they were pervasive.

The young people also looked for minimum age signs relevant to both products and found them much easier to find for tobacco than for alcohol.

Their opinion was that the functional, lighted items probably appeal to kids the most -- things like neon signs, placemats on store counters, clocks and outdoorsy objects.

The young teens spent about five hours doing the two-hour project, which started with training and ended with a debriefing. Karl said the group volunteered through the school district.

Some students were from an organization named SHLOPY, an acronym to help guide young people's behavior. S means is it safe? H means is it healthy? L reminds them to think "is it legal?" O stands for others -- does it respect their rights? P represents the importance of parents. And Y prompts the kids to think of and respect "yourself."

Karl said similar research projects have taken place throughout the country. She said the information gathered locally might become a pictorial display to help educate the public.

Most of the young researchers admitted that they already have friends who drink and smoke. They thought the research and data might help some young people to avoid both health hazards.

Learn more about the River Falls Partnership for Youth at its website: or by contacting Bonnie Scheel: 425-1830, ext. 1180, or