By Abigail Birman

I am a high school junior at McCracken County High School in Paducah. I am the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America President at our school which is also known as FCCLA. We began our advocacy in the fight against big tobacco last year. I am so proud to be part of an organization that gives me the opportunity to advocate for issues impacting the youth of our state and country.

In Paducah, we are lucky to have the tobacco free school campus and indoor smoke-free laws.

I feel like my generation has been viciously targeted by the e-cigarette industry. Their lifelong customers are dying and they need replacements to keep their profits high. Teenagers know how harmful cigarettes are and numbers had dropped significantly for teens to start smoking. What happened next was that a new sleek looking tech device came on the market to lure kids to start vaping.  JUUL and other products looked just like a flash drive and came in cool flavors like mint and gummy bear and teens were intrigued. The tobacco industry pours almost 9 billion dollars each year now into marketing and advertising. I cannot go onto my social media platforms without seeing an ad for a nicotine product.

Ads are everywhere I go. If I pull up to a  pump at my local gas station, I see cigarette ads on the top of the pumps, smokeless tobacco ads wrapped around each pole and every kind of ad you can think of on the doors and windows of the building. You would think the only products they sold were from the tobacco industry. I also see advertisements at my local dollar store which is a busy stop in the mornings and afternoons before and after school.

When teens and pre-teens see these alluring ads, they are much more likely to try the products. Four out of five middle and high school students in the country see vaping ads and that percentage keeps growing. The ads do not show the ugly parts of addiction, they show people having fun, looking glamorous and highly professional. They do not show people on their deathbeds suffering from COPD and cancers which are known to be caused by smoking.

It has been my privilege to speak to my state senator and representative along with my US Representative about tougher laws. What is crazy, is that I have not done any local advocacy work in my area because there is a state law that prohibits my local community from doing more to protect me and my friends from the tobacco advertising in the windows of stores I see everyday. This needs to change.

I hope the state legislature will pass these bills (House Bill 147 and Senate Bill 81)and that local communities like Paducah will then limit the amount of tobacco advertising I have to see everyday.  I can then take this message and go to work with our mayor and other local officials. There is no time to waste.

Abigail Birman is a high school junior at McCracken County High School in Paducah. Abigail shared these comments at a press conference hosted by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow — read the press release and view the press conference recording. Learn more about the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priority to expand local control to curb youth tobacco use and improve health.