By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The messages, written with chalk in a variety of colors on the sidewalks of downtown Plattsburgh, were clear and self-explanatory.
En masse, the words praised the New York state Indoor Clean Air Act that prohibits smoking inside restaurants and bars, but reminded passersby that we still have a long way to go to reduce the impact tobacco advertising has on youth smoking.
“Today is the 10-year anniversary of the (amended) Clean Indoor Air Act in New York state,” said Dana Isabella, coordinator of Reality Check, the grassroots organization in which teenagers fight to reduce teen smoking and the factors that promote it.
“We praise their efforts to improve the quality of health in our state,” she said of the political leaders who took on the controversial issue to upgrade the 1989 Indoor Clean Air Act and ban smoking in restaurants and bars.
“But now we’d like them to protect kids from tobacco marketing in stores and pharmacies.”
Chalk the Walk was one way Reality Check could bring that message to the community.
Isabella and Kim Cummins, program assistant for the Plattsburgh chapter, spent several hours on the 10th anniversary of the amendment writing their messages in front of downtown eateries that gave permission for Reality Check to create its artwork.
“This is something each community can do to protect our children,” Isabella said of efforts to restrict tobacco advertising that targets youth in area businesses. “We can stop the marketing that targets youth smoking.”
Reality Check argues that tobacco displays in stores are specifically designed to attract children. Packages of tobacco products are often similar to playing-card packages, candy and gum packages and even popular mint packages, Isabella noted.
“There isn’t a way kids can go into a store and buy a bottle of water without being exposed to cigarette displays,” she said. “We want kids to be protected. We don’t want them to think tobacco is a normal product.”
The province of Quebec has restricted the use of tobacco advertising in stores, and statistics there show the strategy has reduced the number of teens who begin smoking, Isabella noted of the success marketing restrictions can have.
The U.S. surgeon general has characterized youth smoking in America as a pediatric epidemic that creates lifelong addiction to tobacco products. Of all adult smokers, 90 percent of them started smoking before age 18, and only 1 percent started after age 26, Isabella noted.
“People think that we are anti-smoking, but that’s not what this is about,” Cummins said. “Tobacco is an adult product. Adults know where to go (to purchase tobacco products), and there is a lot of brand loyalty (related to what products smokers choose). They don’t need marketing in stores.
“It’s crazy that we allow adults to market (tobacco products) to kids.”
Cummins became interested in supporting Reality Check after working with Isabella on a few local projects.
“My family has experienced tobacco-related illnesses,” she said. “I have seen firsthand how detrimental tobacco can be on individuals and their loved ones.”
She also expressed an understanding of how difficult it is for adults to quit smoking once they have become addicted. The logical alternative is to help prevent children from beginning the habit in the first place, she suggested.
“We can create a generation that doesn’t smoke, but we have to get the tobacco companies out of the community,” she said. “The more you look around, the scarier (tobacco advertising) gets. Companies are normalizing this crazy product.”
One of Cummins’ sidewalk designs depicts a drawing of a package of the popular Ice Breaker Frost mint product next to a drawing of a Snus chewing-tobacco package, illustrating the similarities she sees in the two different products.
A good rainstorm will wash away the messages Reality Check placed on downtown sidewalks, but Isabella, Cummins and the teens they represent hope that communities will take the message to heart and find a way to eliminate tobacco advertising in places where children and teens shop.
Email Jeff Meyers:email@example.com