Big Tobacco still pouring money into smoking ads aimed at kids
By Shanae Simmons
A new report from the U.S. Surgeon General validates what anti-smoking campaigners working in Hunts Point already know: fewer young people are smoking than in the past, but big tobacco companies are still doing everything they can to create new customer addicts.
The findings underscore the need to continue anti-smoking education campaigns aimed at keeping young people away from tobacco, said David Lehmann, borough manager for Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership, which runs an anti-smoking program at St. Athanasius School in Longwood.
“We are hoping to keep the messages in order to get people to quit and let young people know they are being targeted by tobacco companies,” he said.
But funding for anti-smoking campaigns has been slashed in the state budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
“If these funds are cut, the money won’t be available at all. Those programs will be cut and the advertisements for anti-smoking will be cut,” Lehmann said.
The Surgeon General’s report, released March 12, discussed efforts to stop young people from smoking and explains how tobacco companies target those groups. The major conclusion of the report is that tobacco use among youth and young adults is still declining, but not as quickly as it did in the late 1990s. And declines in the use of smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco and dip, have stalled in the past five years. Three thousand Bronx high school students smoke cigarettes, according to data collected by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Marianne Kraft, principal of St. Athanasius Catholic School wants to be sure her students don’t add to those numbers. That’s why fifth graders at the school are part of the Bronx Smoke Free Partnership program.
“I think this is a wonderful program because children themselves are giving the message to other children, it’s powerful,” Kraft said. “I believe there have to be more programs to counteract these bad habits people get into.”
Fifth graders at the school are taught about tobacco advertising techniques. Last month they performed a play dramatizing the dangers of tobacco advertising.
“There are ads everywhere. The ads get me mad because I have asthma and I know how it feels,” said Chanyia Wigfall, a student who participated in the play.
Joanne Timmins, a coordinator of Reducing Youth Access to Tobacco Products, a Bronx-based initiative, helped bring the program to the school and also notices the obvious tobacco advertisements in the neighborhood.
“It is always in our kid’s faces that cigarettes and smoking look glamorous. And so we’re concerned about the effect it has on the kids’ decision to smoke or not,” she said.
The St. Athanasius play and after-school program are part of a broader anti-smoking initiative by the Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership, partnership organizer Emma Rodgers explained.
“The goal is to get key community leaders, such as Community Board members and elected officials to take a look at this issue and think about possible policy
change to reduce the impact of Big Tobacco’s advertising campaigns,” Rodgers said.
Even though tobacco advertising has been curtailed in recent years, children are still getting a message that smoking is cool. The Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership said in a statement on the Surgeon General report that even the large signs announcing the price of a pack of cigarettes and showing a brand logo at bodegas and candy stores induce some young people to pick up the habit.
“Researchers in the U.S. and abroad demonstrate that exposure to in-store and tobacco promotions is a primary cause of youth smoking and big tobacco knows it- tobacco companies spend over 90 percent of their annual marketing dollars in the retail environment,” a partnership representative said in a statement.
All that advertising appears to be working. Despite widespread knowledge of the serious health risks of smoking, nearly one third of high school boys used more than one tobacco product in the last 30 days. In addition, cigar smoking may be increasing among black high school girls, according to research quoted in the Surgeon General’s report. to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, New York State children buy thirty-one million packs of cigarettes each year.
The Bronx Smoke Free Partnership notes that teen smoking has dropped precipitously in the past decade: In 2010, just over 12 percent of New York City high school students smoked, compared to 2000, when 27 percent were smokers, they found. But advocates warn that without aggressive anti-smoking campaigns, that progress could be lost. The state budget being proposed would cut funding for anti-smoking programs by $5 million.
“The US Surgeon General’s report confirms what we know is true: only a comprehensive approach to tobacco control will bring down smoking rates across the country, and here in New York City,” Sheelah A. Feinberg, the Director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City said in a statement.