Opinion: Would You Like Cigarettes With That?

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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.

Bensonhurst native Sally Mo, 18, is a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School, and graduate of P.S. 247 and Christa McCauliffe Middle School, who is currently interning at NYC Smoke-Free

  • Sean F

    Well done, and well said, Sally.

  • Black Adam

    Maybe New York should take that $6.00 per pack tax and apply it to candy, Pokemon, and soft drinks.

  • Emerald5Forever

    Hey, Sally, great article, and shout out from another Technite (graduate of 2012 here, lol).

    • Sean F

      Hey, Emerald5Forever. I have to say that if you are Tech ’12, your posts here did not let me think so. You comment and write with a mature style that had me thinking you were much older than you are. That’ll teach me to make assumptions.

      • Emerald5Forever

        Thanks!

  • ringranger1

    I’m not defending big tobacco, but how about some blame for the business owners who choose to display them next to your beanie babies? They are members of the community, they should have some of the blame. (On the other hand, and I’m just playing devil’s advocate, cigs are legal to sell and those stores need to make money too.)

    • Sean F

      Liquor and beer are legal to sell, but I can’t imagine a store getting away with a Fireball display next to the Pokemon cards. Putying the cigarettes out of sight behind the counter won’t decrease sales (other than impulse buys). Smokers will still come in, and ask for their brand.

  • AudreySilk

    Sally, I hope when you’ve gotten a few more years of life under your belt that you’ll realize it’s groups like NYC Smoke-Free that are manipulating you and essentially calling youth brain dead. That youth are so dumb that the mere sight of something can convince you to want it. And the other part wrong with what they are teaching you is that when you disagree with something the answer it to censor it. Wrong. That’s hardly the American way. If you believe smoking is a wrong choice then all you need to do is ignore it. Plus, as you note, it’s unlawful to sell to minors anyway. So you’re not supposed to have it be accessible to you anyway. NYC Smoke-Free and other anti-smoking orgs go out of their way to find ways — by legal force most times — to slap a legal product out of everyone’s hands (adults included). Increasing the tax, bans on where one can smoke, They are literally creating barriers where a person can’t say no to them. What does the tobacco industry do? Advertise? Yeah, that’s “force” but NYC Smoke-Free policy isn’t? Think about it. And continue to choose not to smoke if that’s what you want.