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Defy: Out of sight, out of mouth

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 9:56 AM

By Jordan Gribble / Special to the American Press

SULPHUR — Youth-led, tobacco-free organization Defy criticized how the tobacco industry offers advertisements Defy says are aimed toward children.

“We’re not against business, we’re not against smokers, but we are against the tactics that the tobacco industry uses to target marketing towards youth,” Defy member Michael Graham, 17, said in a town hall meeting.

We’ve seen tobacco ads placed near things like energy drinks and magazines — things that are geared towards teens. It really amazes me how the tobacco industry is trying to get more teens to use tobacco.”

The 2011 National Youth Tobacco Survey said 38.9 percent of high school students and 15.6 percent of middle school students in Louisiana use tobacco. That prompted the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living to mobilize 12 Defy groups across the state to examine advertising tactics of the tobacco industry at point-of-sale locations.

In total, Defy groups visited 1,008 convenience stores and gas stations that sell tobacco products; 84 of these visits were done in Sulphur by its chapter of the organization. Defy members said they were trained to recognize tobacco products and their advertisements and to identify advertisements that might attract the children’s attention.

“We’re trained to count the number of ads in a given store, the height of the ads, as anything placed 4 feet from the ground or below is in the direct eyeline of children, and how near they are placed to items like candy that kids shop for,” Defy member Charles Graham said. “We saw one store in the area that had 50 ads, which is an extreme amount for what was a very small store.”

“Research has shown that a child who regularly visits a store with several tobacco advertisements is just as likely to start smoking as is a child whose parents smoke,” Defy member D’Anthony Buller said.

The meeting’s host, state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, said he was proud to see children stand up against the tobacco industry advertising tactics.

“I’m very proud of the health initiatives that we’ve got going on here in Calcasieu Parish. I’m especially proud of this group of young people involved in this statewide initiative to bring awareness to the issue of tobacco use in our youth,” Johns said.

Students in the campaign reported they joined the organization after having a family member suffer from or die because of a tobacco-related illness.

“This is important to me for my own personal health but also because I’ve lost a loved one to tobacco, and I want to stop this from happening in other families. I have friends who smoke and it really hurts me to know what they’re going to go through later in life,” member Michael Graham said.

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