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California survey shows ready availability of alcohol, tobacco and sugary drinks near schools


MARTINEZ — On his way to and from school, Nicholas Reed navigates a multitude of advertisements for sugar-spiked alcoholic beverages, e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products.

“When we walk outside, we see that we’re able to obtain three cigarillos for 99 cents,” said the 17-year-old Antioch High School senior, noting that the price is the same as that of a candy bar. Alcoholic beverages with heavy sugar content, too, are ubiquitously displayed — on storefronts, in magazines and online — and they’re marketed, Reed said, as a stress-reliever to teenagers.

Reed was among a group of students who spoke of their experiences alongside health officials at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center on Wednesday to unveil the results of a statewide survey on the availability and advertisement of unhealthy foods and drinks and tobacco products targeted at young people.

The conference coincided with the launch of a statewide campaign sponsored by nutrition and health advocacy groups and public agencies, including the health departments of Contra Costa, Alameda, Solano, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and Berkeley.

The Bay Area mirrored statewide statistics that showed high concentrations of stores selling tobacco products, alcohol, sugary drinks and other unhealthy products near schools and in low-income areas. Displays provided by health officials included a photograph shot inside a food and convenience store near Berkeley High School showing a rack stacked with bottles of liquor and another with fruit-flavored cigars and cigarillos. In deference to a federal prohibition on flavored cigarettes other than menthol, manufacturers now sell tobacco sticks wrapped in tobacco leaf rather than paper, several officials noted.

The same store also offered Twisted Shotz drinks with 20 percent alcohol content, in flavors such as “Sex on the Beach,” “Porn Star,” “Whipped” and “Buttery Maple.”

“This is what high school kids look at every day,” said Tenzih Chinkarlaprang, a recent Berkeley High graduate and youth volunteer for the city of Berkeley.

On a table was a collection of BuzzBallz, with 200 milliliters of 20 percent alcohol drinks like “Choc Tease,” with vodka, orange wine, cream and “natural” flavors, or “Strawberry Rum Job.”

“Have a Ball! ” reads the container.

Some of the drinks are specifically designed to appeal to girls and young women, said Fatima Sol Mahal, substance abuse program manager for Contra Costa Health Services, pointing to certain color patterns. Others, such as Mike’s Harder Mango Madness Punch, were targeted to boys and young men, she said.

Rounding out the display was a collection of “hookah pens,” flavored e-cigarettes and vaporizers, along with flavored cigars and cigarillos — all targeting young people, according to Contra Costa Public Health Director Wendel Brunner.

“Adults aren’t into watermelon-flavor or gummy bear-flavor cigarillos,” Brunner said.

The survey, with specific data for counties and some cities, is available at Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at