05/31/2013 10:37 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

Take a Walk in Our Kids' Shoes on World No Tobacco Day

Today is World No Tobacco Day. The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on countries to prohibit tobacco advertising and marketing to protect our youth. Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said, "Governments must make it their top priority to stop the tobacco industry's shameless manipulation of young people."

According to a recent Surgeon General's report, 88 percent of smokers start by age 18, and on any given day, more than 2.500 youth and young adults who smoked occasionally will become regular smokers. In New York City, almost 80 percent of smokers start before the age of 21.

Despite great strides in reducing smoking in NYC, our youth smoking rates have remained the same for the past seven years, and tobacco still remains the leading cause of preventable death, killing thousands. Currently, 20,000 public high school students smoke; one-third of them will die prematurely.

Big Tobacco will stop at nothing to find the next generation of "replacement smokers" to become nicotine addicts. Tobacco companies spend an estimated $196 million a year in New York State alone on marketing its deadly products. The bulk of that marketing budget is spent at retail stores with product displays, price discounts and promotion.

Our youth are particularly vulnerable. There are 9,700 licensed tobacco retailers in NYC, and 75 percent of them are within 1,000 feet of a school.

Research shows that the more tobacco marketing and product displays kids see, the more likely they are to smoke.

Any marketer knows that eye-level is buy-level. Many retailers have "power walls," massive displays of tobacco products right behind the counter, and whenever youth pay at the register, the power wall is in full view.

Our youth are bombarded by tobacco marketing and stand in full view of tobacco product displays every time they go to their local bodega or deli to buy candy or chips. These power walls target youth and prompt impulse purchases to attract new tobacco users.

How do we know? We took a walk in their shoes. In the last month, we joined kids across the city as they shopped in local stores near their schools. Tobacco is clearly a part of our kids' everyday life.

When describing what she saw at the counter of her local store, one 5th grader from Brooklyn said, "It's right there with thousands of bright colors, and huge banners, and it catches your's the first thing you see."

We hope our new video will raise awareness of the impact of tobacco marketing on our youth. What we learned will help health advocates and legislators understand what's at stake when we talk about what happens at the "point-of-sale." We've started an online petition to protect our youth from tobacco marketing.

In an effort to prevent youth from smoking, Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Council have introduced three new pieces of legislation that will reduce youth access and addiction to tobacco products.

The first bill would prohibit retailers from displaying tobacco products prominently and in plain view of youth. The second bill would prevent the use of coupons and other discounts and create a price floor for a pack of cigarettes. Finally, the third bill would raise the minimum sale age for tobacco products to 21 years old.

This groundbreaking legislation would protect our youth and prevent them from being drawn into a lifetime of addiction. For the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, even one new smoker is one too many, especially when it's a young person, with their full lives and potential in front of them. We must make sure that they are not cut short because of Big Tobacco marketing.