T.C. Williams High School students took to the streets Wednesday to visit convenience stores and gas stations to observe and record information about tobacco marketing.
This event was part of a larger tobacco awareness campaign, “Kick Butts Day.” The event was sponsored by Y Street, the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria and the Alexandria Coalition for Clean and Smoke-Free Air. Jack Hendrickson, coordinator for Y Street, a health empowerment movement for students, said students would take photos and record tobacco advertisements on a scorecard as part of “Operation Storefront.”
“They get to see the ads themselves,” Hendrickson said. “There’s so many of them, and they really do target them, with the colorful packaging, and they’re very accessible, so it’s very easy to see. A lot of the ads are actually seen 4 feet and below, which is really just a tactic for little kids to see it.
“So, (it’s) for them to just kind of become aware of that and see how many ads they see, see where all that placement is. Everytime you buy something, there it is behind the checkout counter.”
The group gathered at the school by 177 pink flags, which represent how many teens under age 18 will begin smoking this week alone in Virginia.
Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille stopped by to speak to students. “Cigarettes are one of the most heavily marketed products in the United States,” he said. “Tobacco manufacturers spent $250 billion between 1940 and 2005 on cigarette advertising and promotion. That’s a lot of money. That’s money that could have been put back into the community and help people with housing, or education and everything else, but yet, they spent it on advertising and promotion.”
Cassie Cowart, a junior who is part of the school’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria club, spoke to students before they went out into the community. She told students about the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a law that gives the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate the tobacco industry.
“This is something the U.S. really, really needs, because nearly one-fourth of all high school students in the U.S. are smoking cigarettes, and about 30 percent of these will die early in age because they’ll continue to smoke,” West said. “And many of these people will claim they want to stop smoking, but they’re not able to, because people who start smoking before the age of 21 typically have the hardest time quitting.”
Cowart told Patch she joined the club because of her personal experiences with people who have used drugs, alcohol or tobacco.
“I’ve watched how that can really deteriorate a person, so I really want to help people stop this,” she said. “It’s something that’s really important in our society and our community to make sure people aren’t doing this. Life is getting hard, the economy is worse, people need to not have this addiction that’s going to cost them so much.”