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TobacNo! Surgeons General and Teens Unite for a Tobacco-Free Generation

02/11/2014 12:20 pm ET | Updated Apr 13, 2014

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration released its first youth-oriented anti-tobacco campaign. Unlike previous campaigns, "The Real Cost" does not feature images of smoking-related illnesses, such as cancer and emphysema. In an effort to put a new twist on prevention, "The Real Cost" will attempt to appeal to the millennial generation's sense of vanity and dignity. Forget the old-school ads, which showed ailing elderly adults and morbid images like body bags in a morgue. "The Real Cost" reminds teens that cigarettes and other tobacco products will rob them of their good looks and bully them into becoming addicted to nicotine. One of the ads features a personified cigarette who pesters a teenage boy, who is trying to spend time with friends, until he gives into his addiction to nicotine and goes outside to smoke.

Everyone hates a bully these days, and I applaud the FDA's attempt at innovation, but young people know that the real life costs of smoking go beyond trivial and cosmetic implications. The question still remains: How can we move beyond gimmicks and get young people to stop using tobacco products once and for all?

Ritney Castine, 27, has firsthand experience with the real costs of tobacco use. And as a result, has spent most of his life trying to answer that question: "My uncle, who I cared about very deeply died of lung cancer. I wanted to know, what it was that took my uncle away from me. Turns out, it was his lifelong addiction, of smoking a pack of Marlboro cigarettes a day." Ritney's uncle passed away when he was only 10 years old, but his death inspired Ritney's palpable spirit of activism. As a student, Ritney campaigned against the tobacco industry throughout his home state of Louisiana. He was instrumental in the lobbying process, which resulted in a statewide ban against smoking in public places with the exception of bars and casinos. Ritney is now the Associate Director of Youth Advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a not-for-profit based in Washington, D.C.

This week, Ritney will head back to Louisiana to participate in a summit on February 11 in New Orleans, which marks the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general's landmark tobacco report. "TobacNo! Tobacco-Free Generation" will bring together former surgeons general, current Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak and tobacco-free youth advocates to review the legacy of the 1964 report and to develop strategies to end tobacco use amongst future generations. The summit is hosted by Xavier University of Louisiana and the Louisiana Cancer Research Center. The event is open to the public and will be live-streamed at TobaccoSummit.com.

Last week tobacco-free advocates scored a big win with the announcement of CVS's plan to remove all tobacco products from its stores. Calling the sale of tobacco products "inconsistent with our key purpose -- helping people on their path to better health," CVS says that tobacco products will no longer be available at their pharmacies after October 1 of this year. Former Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, lead organizer of "TobacNo," issued a statement commending CVS's actions and urging other companies to take the same steps. "We in public health hope others will follow the CVS example because it will make a difference and help our next generation become tobacco-free."

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