The Queens Smoke-Free Partnership conducted a workshop for high school students in Jamaica that focused on how the tobacco industry markets their products to youth. The students were able to tell me the cost of a pack of cigarettes, but they couldn’t tell me the cost of a gallon of milk. Why is this?
Youth in Jamaica and across Queens and the city are bombarded by tobacco advertisements every day just when walking to the subway on their way to school or buying a pack of gum at their local convenience store. The tobacco industry spends $1 million a day on marketing across New York City and State.
Big Tobacco targets our youth with tobacco marketing promoting its deadly products on store windows and doors. Many stores have “power walls,” massive displays of tobacco products right behind the counter. Whenever youth pay at the register, the power wall is in full view.
The more tobacco marketing kids see, the more likely they are to smoke. Research shows that if you keep tobacco products out of sight in stores, youth smoking rates decrease. Canada, Ireland and England have implemented similar policies with little to no economic impact on the retailer. And they have seen significant drops in the youth smoking rate.
Despite a 35 percent decline in New York City’s smoking rate over the past 10 years, tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death. In Queens, 6,000 public high school students currently smoke cigarettes, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a direct result of smoking. According to the surgeon general, 88 percent of adult daily smokers start smoking by the age of 18. We need to protect the health of our children and work to reduce youth smoking rates. Keeping tobacco product displays out of sight will reduce impulse buys by youth.
My brother started smoking when he was 14. As an adolescent, he wanted to be cool and believed that smoking just added to his “bad boy” image, which was reflected in the tobacco marketing that he saw in bodegas, other stores and gas stations where we lived. Now, 20 years later, my brother has a young son, and he’s working to quit smoking. Even though he struggles to quit, more than anything, he just doesn’t want his son to become addicted to cigarettes like he did.
Research shows that smoking during early and mid-adolescence is far more likely to lead to addiction than the same amount of smoking after age 21. That’s why my brother is having such a hard time quitting. Raising the minimum sale age for tobacco products will reduce both youth access and addiction to tobacco products, saving lives and millions of dollars in healthcare costs.
Tobacco is the only product that when used as intended will kill you. Not exactly a money-back guarantee. I’d rather my nephew, my daughter and youth from across Queens and New York City see ads in our local convenience stores and bodegas for milk. Kids may not know the price of milk, but they should know that cigarettes cost much more than advertised.