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Tobacco foes fight youth-targeting tactics

Big Tobacco is frequently accused of searching for new ways to hook younger smokers. Tuesday, May 31 is both World No Tobacco Day and the statewide launch of the Seen Enough Tobacco campaign. Anthony Billoni, Director of Tobacco-Free WNY, says his group is working to raise awareness of youth-targeting strategies used by the tobacco industry.

“We know that tobacco kills one in two users, so they’re basically killing off half of their customer base,"
 Billoni said. “They call the youth 'replacement smokers,' 'replacement tobacco users.'”

Seen Enough Tobacco is using social media, digital advertising and a children’s book titled “Jack and Jill (and Tobacco)” to get its message out to the community. The campaign’s new website, seenenoughtobacco.org, is a resource for learning how to protect children from tobacco marketing.

A recent CDC study reports that smoking among U.S. high school students is at its lowest level in 22 years. However, according to Billoni, tobacco companies are working harder than ever to appeal to young people.

“The fact is that still, kids are becoming addicted,” he said. “A low number is not a zero number. We still are concerned about kids that are yet to become addicted that are getting addicted, and that’s what we’re working toward.”

Billoni also noted that figures showing a decline in tobacco usage are skewed by a rise in electronic cigarette usage, most of which contain nicotine as well. E-cigarettes were originally marketed as a smoking alternative which help smokers quit, but a trend in recreational e-cigarette use among teens presents an issue.

Many young people who do not smoke cigarettes choose to "vape” and Billoni fears that, once addicted to the nicotine in e-cigarette juice, they will eventually turn to cigarettes. Big Tobacco reportedly spends over $500,000 a day in New York State marketing in places where opponents say children can see the targeted messages.

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