This post was sponsored by Tobacco Free New York State as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.
Today I am writing as a mother to children who are forever growing up to fast, in support of a program that I feel very strongly about. The Seen Enough Tobacco Campaign is aimed at reducing tobacco use among children by getting tobacco advertisements out of sight in stores – an important component in the fight against teen tobacco use. As a former teen smoker and someone who has felt the devastating effects of smoking within my own family I am sharing my personal story and I hope you will join me in pledging to put an end to tobacco advertisements in places commonly frequented by children.
Christmas Day in 2011 found my entire family crowded around the dinner table. It wasn’t unusual for my Grandfather to begin the meal with a few words or a prayer, but the tone this year was more somber than you would expect at a holiday gathering.
My grandfather was always a large man, but he had grown more frail in recent years. His booming voice and larger-than-life personality still filled the room however, even when his physical frame did not.
He began his speech loudly: “To all of you who love me and have been praying for me and bugging me to stop smoking – Congratulations! You won!” He was talking about his recent cancer diagnosis, which finally convinced him to kick his decades long cigarette habit. Both lung and bladder cancer – types commonly associated with smoking.
Most of the adults in my family were regular smokers, myself included. I started smoking when I was in 6th grade – as did most of my friends. At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal and it was surprisingly easy for a pre-teen to purchase cigarettes.
Fortunately I had quit smoking before my oldest son was born, and my grandfather’s diagnosis had kept me from going back to it, but my own experience with the draw of cigarettes from a very young age made it impossible to ignore the world my own children were going to grow up in.
My boys are no longer preschoolers. My oldest son is the same age that I was when I started smoking. In fact, the average age of a new smoker in New York State is 13 years old. My middle schooler, the same child who needs almost daily reminders to brush his hair before going out in the morning, is the average age of a new smoker. I can’t imagine my son or his friends making any decisions that might impact the rest of their lives at this point, and yet they are. Every single day.
Part of the problem is that every single day in New York State alone the tobacco industry spends half a million dollars on advertising. 90% of that marketing is focused on colorful in-store advertisements for cigarettes. Ads that are geared to make smoking seem attractive – ads that are designed to capture the attention of those who don’t fully understand the dangers and consequences of smoking.
With the emergence of e-cigarettes things have only gotten more dangerous for our children. Often touted as being “safer”, more trendy or more fun that traditional cigarettes, kids are drawn in by fun looking ads and enticing “flavors”. From 2014-2018 e-cigarette usage grew 160% among high school students, despite awareness campaigns pushed by many schools to highlight the dangers. Some children begin using e-cigarettes or vaping without even realizing these products still contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals, and are addictive.
My own history with smoking makes me all to aware of how enticing tobacco advertisements can be, and how easy it can be for underage children to get their hands on tobacco products. Our first line of defense will always be open conversation at home – from a young age my husband and I talk honestly about the dangers of smoking. But like so many things, sometimes the wisdom we try to give our children can’t compete with things like peer pressure and skillful product marketing.
Imagine your child running into a convenience store to grab a snack only to find these advertisements, using many of the same words that are used to describe the candy or drink your child is currently buying, staring back at them as they check out.
Tobacco Free New York State has launched their Seen Enough Tobacco Campaign in the hopes of removing tobacco advertisements from the places children see them most often – plastered right behind the counters of convenience stores and drug stores. These ads are intentionally placed, using both bright colors and enticing language (new! enjoy! flavor!) that appeal to children. Not surprisingly, young people are twice as likely to recall tobacco ads than adults, so even if you’re not noticing them as you checkout, your children probably are.
As a mom to five now, my heart sinks every time I visit a doctor and check off the “former smoker” box on a health form. While I am so grateful that I was able to quit while relatively young, I know I am still at an increased risk for health problems because of my smoking history. It’s a feeling I try to be honest with my own kids about: don’t make a choice that will negatively impact your health before you’re old enough to understand the value of your health.
I am proud to pledge my support to the Seen Enough Tobacco Campaign – and to urge local lawmakers to rethink the kinds of marketing our children are exposed to every day. I hope you’ll join me by signing the pledge and sharing with your friends, family and community. And be sure to talk to your children about tobacco – Tobacco Free New York State offers a wealth of resources for parents who are looking to start the conversation, or kids looking to get involved and combat tobacco use in their own community.