County of Marin - Press Releases - Unhealthy Products

For Immediate Release
March 05, 2014

Unhealthy Products Still Prevalent in Marin Stores

Alcopops, sugary drinks, tobacco-flavored items cited in new survey

San Rafael, CA – Marin County is consistently ranked as one of the healthiest counties in California, but there is a lot of room for improvement according to a new study about unhealthy messages and unhealthy choices available at retail stores.

More than 75 percent of Marin stores sell sugary drinks at check-out counters and sugary alcoholic beverages marketed toward youths – commonly known as alcopops – according to the findings of a study released today. Also, nearly half of retail outlets sell e-cigarettes, which are electronic nicotine delivery systems and contain cartridges of nicotine, a highly addictive chemical.

The findings are part of new data released about the availability and marketing of tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food products in California stores. Nearly 700 community members participated in collecting data from 7,300 diverse retail stores between July and October 2013. It marked the first time all three categories of products were analyzed together. Health advocates and agencies released the survey results statewide today, with 13 press events taking place simultaneously.

According to the study, more than half of Marin storefronts displayed unhealthy messages. The availability of alcopops was particularly ominous considering the county’s high rates of alcohol use. According to the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), 40 percent of high school juniors in Marin have used alcohol in the past 30 days and 34 percent have reported binge drinking. Additionally, Marin has the highest rate of excessive drinking among adults in the state.

Marin-based United Markets became the county’s first grocery chain to stop selling tobacco more than 10 years ago and the first alcohol retailer to support the Alcopop-Free Zone campaign in Marin. The Marin County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in May 2012 in support of the Alcopop-Free Zone campaign.

“Stores don’t have to target youth to make a profit,” said Bill Daniels, owner of Marin-based United Markets.

Electronic cigarettes are widely available in Marin, found in more than 46 percent of stores surveyed. Statewide, the number of stores selling e-cigarettes nearly quadrupled over three years, up from 12 percent in 2011.

“This is yet another highly addictive product that is being aggressively marketed and showing up in retail stores,” said Jennie Cook, Chair of the Smoke-Free Marin Coalition. “The popularity and prevalence could undermine the great work we’ve done on tobacco use in California.”

The Smoke-Free Marin Coalition is disappointed with the high level of tobacco products and e-cigarette kits available for sale in low-income neighborhoods, Cook added.

“We have made a lot of strides in recent years, but the tobacco industry and other companies are offering new unhealthy products to find new ways to entice our youth,” Cook said. “The public thinks that these are healthy alternatives, but they are really just nicotine delivery devices. We are committed to working with retailers, partners and parents throughout Marin County to protect our kids and make our communities healthier.”

Retail environments also play a key role in promoting healthy eating. In Marin, one-third of kids are overweight or obese, but as many as half the kids are overweight in low-income school districts.

Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer, said he is concerned that three out of four stores in Marin sell sugary drinks at checkout counters.

“Not only is this higher than the state average, but it seems that stores near schools are even more likely to sell sugary drinks at the checkout,” Willis said. “We need to work closely with retailers as our neighbors to form family-friendly checkout lanes and to make it easier for our kids to make healthy choices.”

For state, regional and county specific data and more information on Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community, visit


Dr. Matthew Willis
Public Health Officer
Health and Human Services

3240 Kerner Blvd.
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 473-4163
Email: Dr. Matthew Willis
Marin HHS website