Our health is in danger. I attend Frederick Douglass Academy One in Harlem and around my school, there are more than 15 tobacco retail stores. These stores are primarily where my friends and I hang out and get food after school. These stores sell cigarettes that kids smoke every day. In most neighborhoods around New York City, a tobacco retail outlet is on nearly every corner. You will find them around schools, playgrounds and even libraries, where teenagers like me hang out—and that is no coincidence.
Tobacco companies know that the more they saturate our communities and “normalize” their products, the more likely kids will become hooked. There are more than 9,000 tobacco outlets in our NYC neighborhoods. We don’t need more outlets providing access to addictive and deadly tobacco products.
Even more troubling is that tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and tobacco rolling paper) sold at these stores contain menthol. Menthol is a crystalline compound with a cooling minty taste and odor. The tobacco industry adds menthol to their products because it makes the products easier to smoke and enjoy. Everyone is affected by menthol cigarettes: you, your friend, your parents and your siblings. African-Americans are the tobacco industry’s No. 1 target for promoting menthol tobacco products. Nearly 90 percent of African-American smokers use menthol cigarettes and approximately 45,000 African-Americans die each year because of menthol cigarettes.
As someone with asthma, I know all too well the dangers that tobacco use and secondhand smoke can pose to your health. I am concerned not only for myself but also for my peers who are being recruited into a lifetime of addiction. Approximately 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18. Approximately, two out of five of my friends either use tobacco or have been negatively affected by it. We need to do more to stop the proliferation of tobacco products among youth. That is why I joined Reality Check at NYC Smoke-Free. Reality Check lets youth like me take a stand against big tobacco and work to create a healthier tobacco-free community. We cannot let another generation fall into the deadly grasp of tobacco. Let’s come together and tell the tobacco industry we have seen enough. To find out more and learn how you can get involved, visit www.nycsmokefree.org.
Jeany Martinez is a high school student at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem. Jeany has surveyed her neighborhood tobacco retail outlets and is concerned about how tobacco retail density is normalizing tobacco use in her community.