Smoking Ads High Around Queens College

Staff Writer

A new study has found tobacco marketing in several stores around Queens College, which the report says is meant to increase youth smoking.

The New York Public Interest Research Group released a report earlier this month on tobacco marketing throughout Flushing, along with Flatbush, Brooklyn and Tremont, The Bronx. The report, called “Overexposed,” goes over the amount of advertisements for tobacco products, finding that more than 50 ads are displayed at stores near Queens College and its high school, Townsend Harris.

 A new study by NYPIRG found nine stores near Queens College display exterior and interior ads that promote smoking. Photo by Ira Cohen

A new study by NYPIRG found nine stores near Queens College display exterior and interior ads that promote smoking. Photo by Ira Cohen

NYPIRG worked with the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City on a pilot membership project that was launched at Bronx Community College, Brooklyn College and Queens College. The program had high school and college students who were interested in public health complete a local mapping survey, which mapped out tobacco advertisements and displays they found within a three to six block radius around the school.

In Flushing, volunteers covered an area around Queens College’s campus that included the Horace Harding Expressway, Reeves Avenue, Melbourne Avenue and Jewel Avenue all from Kissena Boulevard to Main Street, as well as Main Street and Kissena Boulevard between the Horace Harding Expressway and Jewel Avenue.

Between April and June 2013, NYPIRG staff and volunteer students surveyed 45 stores, nine of which are in Flushing. For a store to be surveyed, it had to have at least one example of tobacco marketing. Traditional cigarettes, hookah, cigars, cigarillos and electronic cigarette ads were all included.

In surveying the area, they discovered that 14 smoking ads were present on the exterior of store buildings. Forty-three ads were found in the interiors of the stores observed in Flushing. Adding in Flatbush and Tremont, the numbers increased to 136 exterior ads and 209 interior ads.

Flushing had the most even split between the type of stores with tobacco marketing. Four corner stores/bodegas, three gas stations and two pharmacies were surveyed.

While there was a large amount of advertising, there was only one health warning about smoking observed at a store in the Flushing survey.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the amount of exposure to tobacco advertisements and products during the teenage years has an effect on the number of addicted smokers as adults.

To combat this finding, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently moved forward to ban the display of cigarettes and tobacco products in stores. Retailers would have been forced to hide the products in cabinets, drawers or behind a curtain. The idea was retracted towards the end of August after negotiations with the City Council. Instead, legislation was passed that raised the smoking age to 21.

Out of the almost 10,000 licensed tobacco retailers in the City, 75 percent are within 1,000 feet of a school.

According to the report, the tobacco industry spends $213.5 million each year on marketing in New York for its products. Legal restrictions mean that these ads cannot be seen on billboards or on TV, making their display in bodegas, pharmacies and other stores their main form of advertising.

“It is no accident retailers close to schools are filled with tobacco ads, and it’s no surprise why nearly 90 percent of adult smokers start before the age of 18,” Yvette Buckner, Borough Manager of Queens Smoke-Free Partnership, said. “We cannot sit idly by while Big Tobacco attracts new replacement smokers, costing both lives and millions of dollars in healthcare costs in New York.”

Buckner added that the best way to combat this marketing is with education.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125,, or @Joey788.