BATAVIA — Together, Smoke Free NOW, a program of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, and the Reality Check program of Genesee County have been educating the community about what they organizations say is a known cause of youth smoking — tobacco marketing in stores.
During the week of National Kick Butts Day on Wednesday, students from across Genesee County will take part in a series of activities to bring attention to the problem of tobacco marketing in stores, as well as emphasize the need to take further action to protect youths from ever starting to smoke. Students from Batavia High School will string 70 T-shirts together at the City Youth Bureau in Batavia to show the community how many people die each day in New York from tobacco-related illnesses. They will also donate 70 or more cans of dry goods to Care-A-Van Ministries as a way of giving back to the community and remembering those who have died due to tobacco.
Other activities are planned at Notre Dame High School on Monday, by the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and at Pembroke Intermediate School the same week.
The 2014 Surgeon General Report concludes that marketing and promotional activities by the tobacco companies cause the onset and continuation of smoking among adolescents and young adults, Smoke Free NOW said. In New York state, 107,000 high school students smoke cigarettes. Each year, 12,900 kids under 18 become new daily smokers.
According to the Surgeon General’s report, if current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million Americans younger than 18 who are alive today are projected to die prematurely from smoking-related disease. Every adult who dies early because of smoking is replaced by two new, young smokers, one of whom also will die early from smoking.
“Smoking kills and we’ve got to protect kids from the cause,” said Lizzy Pike, 15, Reality Check youth advocate. “Kids think smoking is OK since they see tobacco marketing every day in stores that we go to, but we want to change that.”
The tobacco industry spends 90 percent of its annual marketing budget in retail stores. Retailers in New York state display an average of 32 square feet of tobacco products or the equivalent of more than 200 cigarette pack faces. In New York state, 82 percent of retailers dedicate at least half of the space behind the checkout counter to openly visible tobacco products. Pharmacies and mass merchandisers averaged 50 and nearly 60 square feet of tobacco product display, respectively, equivalent to over 300 pack faces, according to Smoke Free NOW.
“Thirty-two square feet is like an indoor billboard,” Lizzy said. “The tobacco industry can’t use billboards on a highway so why do we see their “billboard -like” marketing in our convenience stores and pharmacies?”
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids sponsors Kick Butts Day. There will be more than 1,000 events in schools and communities across the United States and around the world.
“Our kids deserve to be protected from tobacco marketing,” said Paul Pettit, director of the Genesee & Orleans County Health Department. “Since nearly all adults started smoking before the age of 18, parents and community members must be aware of the impact of all this tobacco marketing and take steps to protect our kids.”
For more information about the harmful effects of tobacco marketing at the point of sale, visit www.seenenoughtobacco.org or contact Smoke Free NOW at (585) 815-1875 and/or Reality Check at (585) 344-3960.