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Retailers ‘un’-appealing to minors

While alcohol manufacturers have a stated mission to keep their products away from minors, cuddly advertising can transmit mixed messages. To raise awareness of this contradiction, the Kitsap County Human Services Department has completed its fourth annual survey of local retailers and, as part of the “Hands-Off Halloween” program, the department bestowed direct honors and criticisms to individual retailers around the county.

But along with the mixed messages from liquor retailers aimed at minors, the county doesn’t always speak directly with one voice in this program.

While conducting the survey the day before Halloween, the volunteers visited a large Port Orchard retailer and found a fairly serious transgression — a large teddy bear wearing a Coors shoulder pad.

They gave the store manager a certificate, which he interpreted as an award of compliance but did not specifically mention the bear.

In a private e-mail to the media, the county mentioned the store and suggested it would make a good photo opportunity. It also mentioned the transgression in a press release without naming the store.

The surprised manager, who had not been aware of the specific problem, removed the shoulder pads as soon as it was called to his attention.

“In this case, our team didn’t communicate real well,” said Kitsap County Prevention Services coordinator Mary Ellen de la Pena. “But they’re making the community aware. I think it’s outstanding that the manager removed the shoulder pads as soon as he knew of the issue.”

But de la Pena acknowledged such notice should come from the county and not from the media.

“We didn’t complete our job,” she said.

The Hands-Off Halloween community survey team will recognize four neighborhood grocery stores for responsible marketing, merchandising and sales of alcohol and tobacco products that demonstrate a commitment to the safety, health and well being of Kitsap youth.

These merchants — Southworth Grocery (South Kitsap), Jackson Park Mini Mart (Bremerton), Walt’s Lynwood Center Market (Bainbridge Island), and the Port Gamble General Store — will be honored at the Nov. 22 Kitsap County commissioners’ regular public meeting.

Last year, Walt’s Market narrowly missed a perfect score because alcoholic cider was a small part of a Halloween display. This year, they cleaned up their act and received the highest honor.

Now, the bad news: A majority of local stores are falling off the wagon when it comes to responsible merchandising. For this year’s survey, conducted the day before Halloween, 44 small teams of kids and concerned adults visited and surveyed 110 of the 140 grocery stores in Kitsap County.

Volunteers found that 74 (67 percent) of the stores surveyed had conditions that made alcohol or tobacco products either appealing or accessible to youth.

According to volunteer surveyors, 58 percent use advertising images that appeal to youth and 68 percent of stores have alcohol products or advertising placed close to youth items.

Further, 21 percent have tobacco products or ads placed close to items sold to children and 25 percent use ads that appeal to youth.

In addition to cartoon images and placement near kids items, 11 percent of stores do not secure cigarettes and 21 percent do not adequately secure other tobacco products.

De la Pena said the program is succeeding in its mission to blunt the effort to “turn Halloween into a drinking holiday” by some corporations.

“Since Kitsap County began this program four years ago, several stores visited indicated that they have made changes in how they advertise and place alcohol and tobacco products four years ago when the annual survey begun,” she said.

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