We have been so excited to learn about tobacco usage in Minnesota and how it affects African-Americans, especially kids. WE WIN works with Tobacco Free Minneapolis to educate individuals on how tobacco use is affecting youth and African-Americans.
Before we started this project in June, we had no idea of all the crazy things that tobacco companies do to get young people to smoke. Did you know that tobacco companies try to make cigars look like candy to get kids to buy them? They put chemicals in cigars so that they taste like Jolly Ranchers, and Kool-Aid. These cigars are called cigarillos and are packaged in colorful packs with fruits on them. Many times, kids can't tell the difference between the candy and the tobacco.
Tobacco companies spend a lot of time advertising in the Black community. They even try to sell us tobacco when we go out and have fun. They also do underhanded things like make ads that use the image of great Black leaders like Malcolm X to make young people think that he promoted smoking, when he didn't. One tobacco company has a campaign called, "Stir the Sense," which promotes hip-hop culture as a way to attract young people to smoke. They even have something called the Kool Jazz Philosophy Tour that takes something cool like jazz music, and tries to use it to get us to smoke cigarettes and cigars.
The tobacco companies are killing our people. Forty-seven thousand African-Americans die every year from smoking related diseases. More than five million African-American adults smoke cigarettes. Most African-Americans smoke menthol cigarettes, which have more harmful chemicals in the cigarette and creates a greater cigarette dependency.
As youth leaders, we have been going to corner stores talking with the storeowners and clerks. Most kids and teenagers buy tobacco products from the small groceries and gas stations. We gave the stores information about asking to see the identification of people who are under 30 years old, and to make sure there are no tobacco products on their counters and that all tobacco products are in cases. We also talked to them about not selling "loosies," which are single cigarettes that some stores sell for as much as $1. It is illegal to sell loosies.
We would really like to see tobacco only sold at tobacco shops so that young people can have less access to tobacco. The storeowners were very friendly to us. They took information that we had for them about the dangers of tobacco use. They placed the materials on their counters. Ahmed, from the Pennwood Grocery on Plymouth Avenue and Glenwood Avenue North, listened to us, took pictures with us, and even told us that he was given an award from the City of Minneapolis for his tobacco prevention efforts. We also went on KMOJ radio and talked about the harms of tobacco to our community.
We have had a lot of fun learning about and teaching our community about the harm of tobacco use. We pledge that we will never use tobacco and we will make sure our friends don't either.