A statewide survey set out to analyze the availability of healthy and unhealthy products around California revealed what some health officials report as a concerning trend in the availability of e-cigarettes.
For example, in San Mateo County, the survey found that the majority of stores carry liquor, e-cigarettes and cigarillos for less than the price of a candy bar – but not fruits and vegetables.
"I think there are several reasons that we need to look further into," said Edith Cabuslay, a program services manager at San Mateo County Health System. "One of them is because e-cigarettes are unregulated. There aren't many restrictions to having them available in the community."
While 65 percent of stores selling cigarillos was a nearly 10 percent drop in availability since the last survey in 2013, the availability of e-cigarettes jumped from 31 to 54 percent of surveyed stores in San Mateo County.
Cabuslay said she was concerned with numbers indicating that local retail pharmacies are selling tobacco at a greater rate than the statewide average.
"Pharmacies, you know, trying to promote health, keeping people healthy and cigarettes are kind of against that," Half Moon Bay pharmacist Andrew Lai said. "It’s kind of hypocritical for a pharmacy that supposed to be promoting good health to be selling cigarettes or e-cigarettes."
His store was one of a handful awarded by the county for their decision to never carry tobacco products.
Part of the Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community campaign, the survey also looked at advertising trends.
Storefront advertising was deemed less healthy locally than it was just three years prior with about 61 percent of advertisements designated as marketing "unhealthy" products and 9 percent deemed marketing for "healthy" products
Cabuslay said that stores in closer proximity to schools had a higher amount of unhealthy advertising, a concern for her as a health official.
"Retailers play a very important role in our communities. They are our access to fruits and vegetables and other healthy products," Cabuslay said. "They play a key role in making sure we continue to be a healthy community in San Mateo County."
Just three years ago, 54 percent of surveyed stores in San Mateo County carried low or non-fat milk while just 37 percent of stores are now choosing to carry them.
"It’s something that we want to look further into, better understand why retailers might be more likely to sell unhealthy products than healthy products," said Cabuslay.
However, she imagines the short stock life and profit-margins of those healthier items play a role in the decision-making.
"[The study] is definitely a step in the right direction," Lai said.