Sonoma County ranks poorly in key categories of a new statewide survey that examines the sale, marketing and advertising of unhealthy products such as tobacco, sugary drinks and junk food.
Results of the survey found that 81.5 percent of stores in the county sell sugary drinks at the checkout counter and within 1,000 feet of schools; the statewide average is 55.6 percent.
The survey also found that 77.8percent of stores in Sonoma County sold candy, mint and liquor-flavored non-cigarette tobacco products within 1,000 feet of schools — slightly higher than the statewide average of 75.3 percent.
"Here in Sonoma County, about 450 stores sell tobacco; close to 20 percent of those stores sell tobacco within 1,000 feet of a school," said Karen Holbrook, Sonoma County's interim public health officer.
"Do we really want a deadly, addictive product to be heavily marketed near our schools?" Holbrook said at a press conference Wednesday morning.
Local health experts said the survey highlighted troubling advertising and marketing strategies that often are geared toward young people. These include aggressively marketing such products as chocolate-flavored e-cigarettes and colorfully packaged "alcopops," alcoholic beverages sweetened to taste like soft drinks.
"That's not for the 40-year-old man," said Ellen Swedberg, health information specialist for the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, referring to candy-flavored e-cigarettes. "That's for kids. It's a starter."
Despite the poor marks for stores near schools, Sonoma County did fare better than the state average in a few key categories, such as the sale and consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Nearly 53 percent of stores in Sonoma County sell fruits and vegetables, compared with 42 percent statewide. The county and state were almost equal in the percentage of stores that sold "good quality" fruits and vegetables at 33 percent.
Similarly, nearly 34 percent of adults said they ate three or more vegetables within the past day, according to the survey, compared with slightly more than 27 percent statewide.
At Rancho Mendoza Supermercado in Santa Rosa, rows of limes, broccoli, peppers and other fresh produce products are situated next to a refrigerator case that is stocked with alcoholic beverages and ice cream treats.
The store has "whatever I need" in fresh produce, said Marcelino Tenorio of Santa Rosa. Tenorio says he shops at the market frequently to get fresher produce. Wednesday it was bananas, but the day before it was strawberries and papaya.
Cigarettes are completely out of sight. Customers must ask cashiers in order to purchase them and packs are kept in drawers at pay stations.
Pedro Martinez picked up bananas Wednesday night. He said buying fresh produce is easy because he lives near the Piner Road market.
At Carniceria Coalcoman and Pacific Market, both in Santa Rosa, customers must walk through stands of fresh fruit and vegetables to enter the store.
The statewide survey collected data from 7,300 retail stores in all 58 counties, including convenience and liquor stores, supermarkets, grocery stores, tobacco shops, discount outlets, drug stores and big-box stores.
In Sonoma County, 172 stores were surveyed. Almost 70 percent of them advertised unhealthy products on store exteriors, compared to 15.1 percent that advertised healthy products outside the stores.
About 83 percent of Sonoma County stores sell flavored tobacco products and 90 percent of stores sell alcopops.