Behind the counters of the delis where I buy food on my way home from school, there are an array of tobacco products staring back at me. Although in New York City, cigarettes cannot be sold to minors under the age of 21, they are never out of my sight. It never occurred to me that Big Tobacco’s advertising was geared towards me and my peers until they invaded one of my favorite stores.
Conveniently, one of the first things I see after getting off the train station is my favorite store, the TY store. It always made me happy when I walked past the storefront filled with beanie babies. The vintage feel of the slightly chipped green edges of the display added to the comforting sight of the rainbow beanie babies, not a single shelf on the display was empty.
A few years ago, after a long day in the 8th grade, I noticed that the display on one side of the window had changed. A new company had moved into the store: Big, “Bad” Tobacco. My beanie babies now had new accessories: cigars, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco. Not only were my beanie babies impacted by the advertisement, so was I.
Subtly, the tobacco industry was asking a 13-year-old kid, “Would you like tobacco with your beanie baby?”
The TY store is one of the 93 tobacco shops where I live, in Bensonhurst. On the blocks surrounding my local high school, there are 7 tobacco retail shops, and 8 near my local youth center. Why is it easier for me to walk to a store with cigarettes than it is to borrow a book from my library? There is a serious issue with tobacco density, a measure of the amount and quantity of tobacco use in a given area or space, in my neighborhood.
As an upcoming college freshman working with NYC Smoke-Free, I have learned how the tobacco industry manipulates children and teens to become the “replacements” for current smokers. While walking to school, children of all ages should not see big tobacco cartons plastered on the windows of delis. Widespread availability and exposure to young children normalizes tobacco use. Studies have shown that 90% of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18. Instead of tobacco shops, we need more parks, libraries, and museums.
Tobacco companies should not infiltrate the minds or neighborhoods of youth by peddling their deadly and addictive products. As residents of our neighborhood, we should be able to say, “we don’t need more tobacco”.
To learn more and get involved, visit nycsmokefree.org.