The fight against tobacco use is global: approximately 1 person dies from a disease caused by tobacco use every six seconds around the world. New York joins a worldwide effort to discourage tobacco use.
The group Human Rights Watch says that in one country alone, Indonesia, nearly four million children between 10 and 14 become smokers every year. Despite restrictions on the sale and use of tobacco around the the world, billions of cigarettes have found their way into children’s hands, thanks to colorful packaging, logos that feign status and clever marketing techniques by manufacturers.
The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day – get ready for plain packaging. Across New York State, advocates are also supporting an anti-tobacco message aimed at children which appears in storybook form, "Jack and Jill (and Tobacco)," launched as part of the statewide #SeenEnoughTobacco social media campaign.
Erin Sinisgalli, is with St. Peter's Health Partners: "The tobacco industry, we know, is always targeting kids, because, very few adults start smoking, but kids certainly do it at very, unfortunately, too high a rate."
The U.S. Surgeon General calls smoking a “pediatric epidemic.” In New York State, the average age of a new smoker is 13 years old, and 90 percent of adult smokers say they first tried smoking by age 18.
Former Albany County Legislator and tobacco-control advocate Tim Nichols. "I think any person who has stepped inside of a convenience store can't help but notice the large tobacco displays behind the counter, at eye level of most kids. Y'know this is intentional by the tobacco industry and we need to take steps as a community to deal with it."
Nichols praises CVS for its 2014 corporate decision to ban sales of all tobacco products and hopes other chains will follow suit.
Jeanie Orr, Project Coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, notes that 85 percent of high school students were aware of tobacco-related ads in convenience stores, supermarkets, gas stations or pharmacies in that same year. "Advertising and promotional activities by tobacco companies have been shown to cause the onset and continuation of smoking among adolescents and young adults."
The World Health Organization, which says six million people die needlessly every year as a result of tobacco use, is pushing for plain packaging of tobacco products, calling for restrictions and outright bans on logos, brand images, color schemes and promotional materials featured on cigarette packs, which already carry graphic health warnings. Again, Jeanie Orr: "A kid goes out to buy candy at the counter and there's a wall of tobacco products in the back. The tobacco industry spends a lot of money to do that, and they do it because they know that it works. They spend $9.45 billion annually to market to customers. It's become normal, it's like 'ah it's there, it's right next to the ice cream, right next to the candy,' so kids think it's a normal part of life and not a big deal, it's a legal product, it's okay."
Tobacco giant Philip Morris International and Citizens For Tobacco Rights did not respond to requests for comment. “World No Tobacco Day” advocates are also urging those who use tobacco products to abstain for a 24-hour period.