Out of Sight and Out of Mind

Mayor Bloomberg, NYC Health Commissioner Farley, and Deidre Sully of the NYC Coalition at the Mayor's press conference

Mayor Bloomberg, NYC Health Commissioner Farley, and Deidre Sully of the NYC Coalition at the Mayor’s press conference

On March 18, 2013, Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council announced new legislation that would make New York City the first in the nation to keep tobacco products out of sight in retail stores. This bold step would protect youth from Big Tobacco’s marketing tactics and reduce youth smoking.

Despite past success, youth smoking rates have stalled, and tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in New York City. According to a recent Surgeon General report, 88 percent of adult smokers start by the age of 18. Under the new proposal, tobacco products can still be sold, but retailers will no longer be able to display tobacco products prominently and in plain view of youth and other customers.

In New York City, 19,000 public high school students currently smoke cigarettes; one-third of them will die prematurely as a direct result of smoking. This is not by accident; this is a direct result of tobacco companies spending $1 million a day marketing their deadly products in New York.

POS Ad 2012Research shows that the more kids see tobacco product displays, the more likely they are to smoke. Many retailers have “power walls”, massive displays of tobacco products right behind the counter, and whenever youth pay at the register, the power wall is right in full view.

Any marketer knows that eye-level is buy-level. Power walls are an important marketing tool that tobacco companies use to target youth and prompt impulse purchases to attract new tobacco users. If tobacco products are out of sight, they are out of mind. In New York City, there are 9,700 licensed tobacco retailers, and approximately 75 percent of these stores are located within one thousand feet of a school. We need to protect our youth at the point of sale.

Opponents to the proposed legislation will argue that it will hurt the small business owner and have a negative effect on the economy. They said the same thing when New York’s workplaces, including bars and restaurants, went smoke-free ten years ago.  But the sky hasn’t fallen, and public health and New York’s bars and restaurants have flourished.

We believe that it is unacceptable to target our youth and draw them into a lifetime of nicotine addiction. As Mayor Bloomberg has said, “Even one new smoker is one too many–especially when it’s a young person.”