City Council has responsibility to address storefront tobacco ads
Retail shops throughout Boston have kids coming through their doors
every day to purchase staple snacks such as chips, soda, bubblegum and
candy. Some of the typical food choices are far from healthy. Yet there
is another easily attainable item at these stores that is potentially
deadly — cigarettes. Tobacco companies, well aware of the young
clientele at many convenience stores, are advertising in and around
these shops as a critical and effective strategy to keep smokers
smoking and recruit new, young smokers.
At a recent City Council hearing (“Hub youth leaders speak out about
unhealthy storefront ads,” Dec. 13, 2007), I submitted testimony in
support of initiatives proposed by the Health Disparities Tobacco
Project. My support stems from several years ago, when I worked with a
youth group to regulate tobacco products, sales and ad placement in and
around Codman Square — especially those stores near schools and the
We all know why tobacco companies target teens — it’s simple. They will
always need new customers. Few smokers begin smoking as adults. Most
people begin smoking before they might acquire good judgment; before
they realize they aren’t invincible or immune to addiction; when they
are most impressionable and influenced by advertisements suggesting
smoking is attractive, tough, or will make them look older.
Instead of letting tobacco companies and retailers capitalize on teens’
insecurities and vulnerabilities, we should be responsibly restricting
the advertising opportunities of tobacco retailers, particularly those
in close proximity to our local schools.
We have a responsibility to Boston residents to promote healthy living
and to safeguard our children from predatory advertising practices. To
do so requires that we toughen our laws pertaining to tobacco
advertising, better enforce current restrictions and smoking bans, and
strengthen our educational outreach efforts about the dangers of
smoking — and second hand smoke.
Tobacco retailers have realized they have a captive audience in these
teens. It’s time we turn that fact into our own advantage and counter
dangerous advertisements by mandating retailers post signs that warn
kids of the damaging effects of smoking. Perhaps having a visual
reminder that “over 5 million children living today will die
prematurely of some smoke-related disease” will change the mind of a
youth who is contemplating buying his or her first pack of cigarettes.
While the City Council may not have the authority to stop tobacco
companies from packaging their cigarettes in pink, chic-looking boxes,
or making new candy-like flavors enticing to teens, or employing other
sneaky marketing techniques directed at youth, we do have the authority
to better regulate where and how our local retailers can advertise
their tobacco products.
I hope the Council will take swift action and respond responsibly to
the requests of the Health Disparities Tobacco Project, an initiative I
have immense respect for. The organizations working on this proposal
are not only mobilizing teens around a major public health issue that
disproportionately affects low-income and minority populations. They
are also teaching teens about how they can make their voices heard,
showing them they can make a difference. I believe that this model of
youth leadership and empowerment program should be replicated in other
arenas including educational reform, anti-violence programs and civic
With the participation and investment of today’s youth, we can become a better Boston for future generations.
Michael F. Flaherty
Boston City Councilor, At-Large