A call to curtail tobacco availability

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Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers started before they reached 18


  • The blue dot indicates Urban Assembly of Emergency Management High School on Pearl Street, while the skull and crossbones buttons represent the cluster of tobacco retail outlets surrounding the school.


Do you know how it feels to walk in my shoes down the streets of Manhattan and have to see so many advertisements for tobacco products? Tobacco retail outlet density is a major issue in my neighborhood. The sad truth is that you’re more likely to find more tobacco retail outlets than libraries and playgrounds. Students are surrounded by tobacco retail outlets everywhere they go: More than 9,000 tobacco outlets already swamp New York City. We don’t need more tobacco shops on our blocks.

My school, Urban Assembly of Emergency Management on Pearl Street, for example, is surrounded by nearly 46 tobacco retail outlets. Tobacco companies purposely advertise and sell their deadly addictive products near schools so students like me can be “replacement” smokers. Widespread availability of these products normalizes tobacco and the more my peers see it, the increased likelihood of them picking up a chronic habit. Philip Morris once said, “Today’s teenagers is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens.”

What’s even more disconcerting is that the majority of the tobacco products being sold at these stores contain menthol. Menthol is a cool minty flavor, often found in peppermint or gum. Tobacco companies add menthol to tobacco products because it counters the harshness of their products, thereby making cigarettes easier and more enjoyable to use. Teenagers like me are more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes because of the cooling sensation. Brands such as Kool and Newport, both mentholated, are marketed to young students by advertising — and availability — in areas that youth frequent the most.

This is huge problem considering that, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, nearly 90 percent of smokers started before the age of 18. The earlier students start to smoke the harder it is for them to quit.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness.”

I participate in Reality Check with NYC Smoke-Free, a program that lets you stand up and speak out against tobacco use and the tobacco industry. We all need to do our part in educating others about these issues going on within our community. We need to be the change we want to see in the world! For more information on getting involved, please visit Nycsmokefree.org

Fadi Gaye is a senior at Manhattan’s Urban Assembly of Emergency Management.

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