Ulster County Executive Michael Hein announced last month at Lenape Elementary School in New Paltz that the county Health Department is partnering with the Tobacco Free Action Coalition (TFAC). This strategic partnership is meant to discourage the marketing and promotion of tobacco product in places where young adults and children can see them.
Hein asked local leaders to adopt regulations restricting visible promotions of tobacco products and to restrict smoking on public properties and recreation areas.
“Smoking in our public recreation areas not only poses a serious health hazard, it also sends a message to our children that smoking is acceptable,” said Hein. “It is my goal to make Ulster County the healthiest county in New York State. Discouraging tobacco use by our children will lead to healthier lifestyles as adults.”
Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, Ulster County’s public health director and head of the Department of Health, fully supports the county executive’s initiative. At the county executive’s presentation, with TFAC in New Paltz, he noted that tobacco companies spend over $12.8 billion a year on marketing and promoting their products. That is more than the fast food, alcohol and soda and beverage industries combined.
Statistics provided by the Health Education Unit of the Ulster County Department of Health (UCDH) indicate that 80 percent of current adult smokers started smoking in youth. The current rate of tobacco use among adolescents in Ulster County is approximately 13 percent. Smoking rates vary from year to year, and with different age groups and grades. Although rates of teen smokers have decreased it still presents a serious health risk.
According to the New York State Department of Health, smoking kills 25,500 people per year in New York State. Another 2,500 are killed by secondhand smoke. Every year 570,000 New Yorkers are afflicted with serious diseases caused by smoking. It is projected that 389,000 New York State youths aged zero to 17 will die from smoking.
Hasbrouck said the removal of smoking advertisement in electronic media has made a difference in smoking rates among youth. A study showed that exposure to cigarette advertising causes non-smoking adolescents to begin smoking.
The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals concluded that massive media exposure influences young people to become smokers and that the tobacco industry created highly sophisticated marketing programs specifically for this.
Additionally, Hasbrouck said young people are highly vulnerable to the type of advertising employed by the tobacco industry; advertising which targets the psychological needs of adolescents, such as popularity, peer acceptance and positive self-image.
The UCDH suggested schools institute good and consistent education and awareness programs by setting and enforcing rules on a consistent basis. Also, they recommended communities send a consistent message that smoking and other unhealthy behaviors are not acceptable by providing the regulations, education programs and activities that discourage smoking and other substance abuses.