It is intentional advertising to youths, not peer pressure, that serves as the primary catalyst for new teenage smokers.
This is the message the Tri-County Tobacco Coalition is attempting to spread as part of today's Great American Smokeout.
As the American Cancer Society celebrates the 37th annual Great American Smokeout, New Yorkers can be thankful that fewer high school students are smoking.
This side-by-side comparison shows a typical cash register area in America with advertisements for cigarettes behind the counter. Pictured above is a typical counter in Canada. Cigarettes are stored in drawers without ads.
While the trend is moving in the right direction, the rate of decrease is slowing.
According to the Surgeon General, in the United States, 3.6 million youths currently smoke cigarettes. Within the state, the current rate of cigarette smoking by high school students is 12.6 percent, which is 4.6 percent less than the national average of 17.2. Still, about 1 out of every 4 youths smoke in the Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany county area.
"Youth smoking rates have fallen faster in the state than in the country as a whole, but there's still a lot of work to be done," said Mike Porpiglia, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus county executive for the American Cancer Society.
"The American Cancer Society has supported the state Tobacco Control Program by encouraging tobacco free outdoor policies at college campuses and by helping smokers quit and keeping kids from starting," Porpiglia continued.
According to the Surgeon General, the tobacco industry spends more to market tobacco products in our state than the alcohol, junk food and soda industries combined. Tobacco marketing influences youths' decision about smoking. kids are twice as likely as an adult to recall tobacco advertising. Much of this advertising and marketing is done at the checkout counters in convenience stores and pharmacies, which are highly visible locations.
The Surgeon General's report also states that when communities have tobacco retailers located close to schools, kids are more likely to smoke.
"We want to show people how tobacco marketing in other countries is drastically different from how it operates here in America," said Laurie Adams, director of the Tri-County Tobacco Free program. "When you go into any tobacco retailer in Canada, their products are completely covered up and there is absolutely no marketing of the product. We want to provide examples of what has been done in other countries, and we also provide data from countries that limit tobacco exposure to youth. The result is a dramatic decline in tobacco usage amongst youths.
"Tobacco companies call them 'replacement smokers,' but we call them our children," continued Adams. "The tobacco industry spends about $1.1 million per day in the state to market tobacco products. Most of the marketing is located where 75 percent of teens shop every week. During the Great American Smokeout, we need to help smokers quit and protect our youth from exposure to tobacco marketing. Parents and community members need to be educated on this type of exposure and take steps to help protect our kids."
According to the Surgeon General, nearly all adults who smoke started by the age of 18. Smoking during the teen years causes early damage to the lungs, which in most cases cannot be reversed completely. It also leads to health problems including, but not limited to: heart disease, asthma, breathlessness, the inability to participate in physical activities, and numerous types of cancer.
"I quit smoking and I hope my children never start," said Lisa Lamer, ex-smoker and parent. "It was hard to quit, especially when you go into certain stores and all you see are tobacco ads and large displays of cigarettes. The Great American Smokeout reminds me of how important quitting was, and how I need to help protect my children."
"We know tobacco product displays and advertising give youth the impression that tobacco products are easily accessible," said Samantha Vanstrom, senior program coordinator for Reality Check. "Our kids are being targeted by tobacco companies and everyone should be mad about what they're doing."
For help quitting tobacco, contact the state Smokers' Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com, or call 1-866-697-8487.