Members of the Chinese American Planning Council and students from the school were joined by Assemblywoman Grace Meng, anti-smoking advocates and representatives from the American Lung Association on the “Take a Walk in Our Shoes” tobacco advertising tour.
The tour kicked off at 3 p.m. at Long Island City High School, located at 14-30 Broadway Avenue in Queens.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Lisa Spitzner, project coordinator for the New York chapter of the American Lung Association said in the school’s auditorium before the tour that, “we as adults may not see the tobacco advertising, but our kids certainly do.
“We know that, and the tobacco companies know that,” she added.
Spitzner said 90 percent of adult smokers picked up the habit before they turned 18.
Tobacco advertising and sales in local stores is one of the leading causes of teenage smoking, she said.
According to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygeine, 18,000 New York City public high school students currently smoke cigarettes.
Federal regulations prevent tobacco companies from advertising on billboards and television, so “retail stores, our pharmacies, bodegas, convenient stores are one of the last places that the tobacco industry can be targeting,” Spitzner said.
Lawrence Wong, president of the Chinese American Planning Council, who lives in Flushing and is a senior at Bayside High School, spoke to the crowd about what he’s learned from participating in the city’s anti-smoking campaign for the past three months.
“I learned that the tobacco industry spends millions of dollars to do what you see here today,” he said. “All these advertisements are millions of dollars that we put into them and they take out and target our youth.”
Wong said that young people are “always thinking and are a little bit curious about what we’ve never tried before, and the tobacco industry knows that, and they target that idea.”
Before the group embarked on its street tour, Spitzner noted that the event was not intended to shame local merchants, who are at the mercy of the money that tobacco companies offer to display the ads.
Along the walk, which stretched from 21st Street up Broadway to 31st Street, the crowd passed more than seven stores that displayed tobacco advertisements in their front windows.
Many of the ads were close to the ground, which Spitzner said are intended to be directly at a child’s eye level.
“Who’s going to see this ad?,” she asked, standing next to a bodega on the corner of Broadway and Crescent Avenue. “Adults don’t see these ads, kids are going to see these ads because it’s at their eye level.”
The ads are large and written in bright colors so they can be seen from down the block, Spitzner said.
She also pointed out that pharmacies sell cigarettes, along with medicines for lung cancer, heart disease and other smoking-related illnesses, and that grocery stores sell them in addition to vegetables and other healthy foods.
On the way back to the school, when asked what he thought of the information presented on the tour, 22-year old Chinese American Planning Council member and Astoria resident Raihan Mondal said he noticed that the group was getting attention from others who were walking down the street.
“I’m hoping that more people actually maybe paid attention, maybe listened to some of the things we were discussing,” he said.
Mondal said he sees a lot of teenagers who smoke, and that he saw his classmates smoking in junior high school.
He said he hopes events like the “Walk in Our Shoes” tour will impact the tobacco industry and that “maybe someone in a government office will try to pass [a bill] that will stop the advertisements that we see every day.”