In the community, convenience stores, pharmacies and bodegas are some of the last places where the tobacco industry can target our youth, since Federal regulations now restrict TV and print advertising. There are currently 11,500 licensed tobacco retailers in New York City, 75 percent of which are located within 1,000 feet of a school. Furthermore, 800 of these are tobacco-licensed pharmacies.
While there are several factors that contribute to adolescent smoking, tobacco advertising and promotion in retail stores where tobacco products are sold is undoubtedly one of the most significant. One way in which tobacco companies seek to entice adolescents to use their products is through the use of prominent product displays located behind the cash registers to maximize visual intrusiveness and instigate impulse purchase.
Once individuals are addicted to cigarettes, these displays trigger urges to purchase cigarettes and increase consumption, which can make quitting more difficult. Furthermore, although anti-smoking advertising and warnings can help reduce youth susceptibility to smoking, they are not sufficient to counteract the effects of massive advertising by the registers.
In light of this evidence, the time has come for a ban on the display of tobacco products in non-adult-only retail stores. In fact, 66 percent of New Yorkers favor prohibiting the sale of tobacco products near schools, 60 percent favor prohibiting the sale of tobacco in NYC pharmacies, 58 percent support keeping tobacco out of view of customers and youth, 54 percent favor limiting the number of tobacco retail licenses in New York City, and 50 percent support prohibiting the sale of tobacco in grocery stores.
Nearly 90 percent of regular smokers start smoking before the age of 18 – very few begin after high school. As Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders stated in 1994, “If adolescents can be kept tobacco free, most will never start using tobacco.” It's time New York begins fighting for tobacco-free youth, we’ve seen enough marketing to our youth!
Hasiba Rashid is program manager for the Council of Peoples Organization.