By State Sen. Kevin Parker
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and New York City – killing more than 12,000 New Yorkers over the age of 35 every year. Tragically, the addiction starts very young: 90 percent of smokers begin before the age of 18, and one third of these adolescents will die prematurely as a direct result of smoking. Nationally, a whopping 700 kids become regular smokers every single day.
These statistics are not new. So why, in this age of advanced medical science and increased access to information, do we still tolerate the widespread availability of these deadly products in nearly every New York City neighborhood? Perhaps part of the answer lies in the fact that the pervasive presence of tobacco retail outlets has become normalized in our communities; especially communities of color. More than 8,500 tobacco shops swamp New York City, and in far too many neighborhoods tobacco retail can be found on nearly every corner and every block.
In Brooklyn alone, 5,000 high school aged kids currently smoke, and more than a third of them obtain their cigarettes from neighborhood retail stores. How can it be that it is easier for most Brooklyn kids to encounter tobacco products than libraries, playgrounds, or recreational centers near their homes? Our youngest generations deserve better than to live in a tobacco swamp festering with deadly products and in environments where access to tobacco makes it easy to start and harder to quit smoking. It’s time we all became aware of Big Tobacco’s aggressive and savvy marketing techniques that aim to lure teens into a lifetime of addiction and disease.
Armed with knowledge and determination we can enact real change to create healthier environments in which the youngest among us can truly thrive. Organizations like NYC Smoke-Free at Public Health Solutions, a program made possible by the New York State Bureau of Tobacco Control, are working to end tobacco proliferation in Brooklyn and beyond. In my Brooklyn district, consisting of neighborhoods in Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, Kensington, Windsor Terrace and Park Slope, high school kids participating in NYC Smoke-Free’s Reality Check program are empowered to be their own health advocates. As part of their advocacy, they help draw attention to the persistent presence of tobacco retail shops near their homes and schools. What’s more, Kick Butts Day, a national day of activism organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, encourages youth to take a stand against Big Tobacco by drawing attention to the tobacco industry’s deceptive marketing, and raising awareness of the problem of tobacco use in their communities.
The increase of “smoke” shops in our neighborhood is simply a new way of packaging an old problem. So as one dedicated to the overall better quality of life for all New Yorkers, I too want to see an end to the tobacco epidemic. Let’s start by stopping the ease of tobacco availability in our Brooklyn neighborhoods.