Forcing a reality check on a smoke-prone city

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of World No Tobacco Day last week, the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, a health advocacy group that works to increase awareness of tobacco control issues, gathered New York City youth from all five boroughs to a rally in Washington Square Park in Manhattan to send a clear message to the tobacco industry about their retail store marketing and advertising: We’ve Seen Enough!

“In NYS alone, over $1 million a day is spent on tobacco marketing. While we have seen decreases in smoking rates in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, there are still over 4,000 youth who are still smoking,” said Rachelle Rochelle, borough manager, Brooklyn Smoke-Free Partnership. “We have to do all we can to prevent any more youth from picking up this deadly habit.”

World No Tobacco Day 2012 educated policy-makers, youth and the general public about Big Tobacco’s tactics and sent a strong message to the industry’s giants. With a quarter of all high school seniors and a third of all young adults smoking, and with the progress in reducing tobacco use by youth slowing dramatically, the time for action is now.

Sheelah Feinberg, executive director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City said, “We know that the more our youth are exposed to tobacco marketing, the more likely they are to smoke. The Coalition is committed to reducing youth exposure to tobacco marketing. We are honored to be joined by our leaders in the State Assembly who are helping us protect the health of New York City’s youth and ensure that they don’t become the next generation of smokers.”

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State Assembly members Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), Grace Meng (D-Queens), Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan), and Lou Tobacco (R-Staten Island) were recognized at the rally for being champions of tobacco control. Assemblyman Lou Tobacco received special recognition for his tireless efforts in protecting the health of New Yorkers.

“Smoking rates for most New Yorkers, including teenagers, have declined over the last decade due to aggressive tobacco control programs. Yet, tobacco rates remain stubbornly high in many predominantly African-American and Latino communities,” said Jeffries. “As long as we allow Big Tobacco to keep actively spending advertising dollars in our communities, children will continue to be attracted to their deadly products.”

According to the Surgeon General’s Report released in March 2012, “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults,” far too many young people are still using tobacco. Most adult daily smokers (88%) report that they first smoked by the time they were 18 years old, 99% of them before age 26. Each day across the United States, over 3,800 youth under 18 start smoking. There is also an increase in smokeless tobacco use among NYC youth. If the current trend continues, in 2020, almost 8% of NYC youth will be using smokeless tobacco products. Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death and disease in the United States.

The Coalition was joined by Reality Check, the NY state youth movement against the marketing practices of the tobacco industry, to mark the 25th anniversary of this tobacco holiday created by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1987. Reality Check was recently named Youth Advocates of the Year by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for their leadership in the fight against tobacco.

Local hip-hop artists Vernon “Dyverse” Wooten and Queen Nani paid tribute to World No Tobacco Day by performing their hip-hop track, “Smoke Free (The Way 2 Be)”, at the youth rally. The youth who had written “SmokeFreeWay2Be” on their palms, raised their hands high as they sang along with Dyverse and Queen Nani in declaring, “SmokeFreeWay2Be!” “We hope the song mobilized people to start taking a stand against Big Tobacco, and hold them accountable for their all their retail advertising to our city’s youth,” said Dyverse.

Retail stores – pharmacies, bodegas, convenient stores – are one of the last places in New York City where the tobacco industry can target our youth. There are 11,500 licensed tobacco retailers in the City, and approximately 75 percent of these stores are located within one thousand feet of a school perimeter.

“Working closely with our community partners who are committed to our city’s youth, the Coalition can not only prevent and reduce youth tobacco use, but also empower kids to become real leaders,” said Feinberg. “We were thrilled to host our World No Tobacco Day youth rally at Washington Square Park. We hope we inspired youth to declare ‘SmokeFreeWay2Be’ and tell Big Tobacco: ‘We’ve Seen Enough!’”

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