Rally in New York City - February 19, 2003

Sponsored by:

Reality Check, Essential Action

Endorsed by:
American Lung Association of the City of New York
New York's Asian American and Pacific Islander Tobacco Control Network
NYC Coalition For A Smoke Free City
New York Public Interest Research Group
SmokeFree Educational Services, Inc.
South Bronx Concerned Citizens Against Tobacco
Tobacco Not Tolerated

Last Wednesday, New York State's youth empowerment program, Reality Check, and Essential Action sponsored a rally in New York City to expose how Big Tobacco uses images of NYC to spread tobacco addiction around the world and to call on the U.S. delegation to the FCTC to support a comprehensive tobacco advertising ban. View a shocking collection of international tobacco ads and brands that use and abuse NYC

Reality Check teens managed to pull off a great event, educate hundreds of New Yorkers about the issue, and garner local & international media coverage -- despite snow and associated transportation woes, the police kicking us out of City Hall Park even though we had a permit, the Concorde jet landing prematurely in Canada (which diverted some international media away from our event), and the police stopping and searching a Reality Check coordinator's car because the sound system it was transporting supposedly resembled a large explosive device!

Reality Check teens kicked off the event, which was held on a busy sidewalk next to City Hall Park (just west of the Brooklyn Bridge), with some loud and spirited chants, e.g. "Hey Hey Ho Ho, NYC tobacco ads have got to go!" and "George Bush, You Should Know, Not to Work for Big Tobacco!" Read more chants

Speakers at the rally expressed outrage at Big Tobacco's use of NYC to promote death around the world, and they called on the U.S. to reign in Big Tobacco's global expansion by supporting a comprehensive advertising ban in the FCTC -- a measure that the U.S. currently opposes. If millions of dollars in tobacco money prevents the U.S. from doing so, they said the U.S. should step aside and give poor countries the opportunity to protect their citizens from predatory transnational tobacco companies.

In January, Essential Action and Reality Check surveyed GPTC participants around the world to better understand the psychological reasons behind Big Tobacco's use of U.S./NYC imagery abroad. We found that people around the world associate the U.S. with Freedom, Democracy, Wealth, Opportunity, Development, and Power. New York City is the city respondents most associate with the U.S. Read more!

Read statement by Kristin Riegel (Reality Check) on Big Tobacco's use of New York City imagery abroad. View a photo

Speakers emphasized the irony of the Big Tobacco featuring NYC in tobacco ads, when NYC is an international leader in tobacco control (NYC is soon to become one of the largest smoke-free cities in the U.S.). They also drew attention to NYC being a microcosm of the world. Over 40% of NYC residents are foreign born. Exposure to tobacco advertising in countries of origin affect smoking rates in NYC. Indeed, the line between local and global public health is hard to define in NYC.

View photo of Peter Sarrano, Executive Director of South Bronx Concerned Citizens Against Tobacco, speaking at the rally

The World Health Organization projects that tobacco will kill over 10 million people annually by 2030. Speakers noted, soberly, that this is the equivalent of 95 jet planes crashing each and every day, every day of the year. New York City has a visceral understanding of what such numbers represent. It wants to help halt, not be used to aid and abet, this global genocide. New York City tobacco control groups join in solidarity with tobacco control groups worldwide in calling for a strong FCTC.

Genesis Castro (Reality Check) reads statements from GPTC participants around the world
Full list of statements, View a photo

At the rally, a statement of solidarity from the San Francisco Tobacco Free Coalition was also read. It highlights Big Tobacco's similar misuse of California names, icons, and imagery to sell death around the world. Read the statement

Reality Check teens brought 1,000 palmcards with a tobacco ad featuring the skyline of NYC and the message "Get New York City Out of Tobacco Ads! Support a Strong FCTC Now!" on one side and "Big Tobacco - Stop Using NY to Sell Death... Did you know that the tobacco industry uses ads like this one featuring New York City to sell their deadly products to the world. Tell them this must stop!!! Tell our U.S. Delegation to support a comprehensive advertising ban as part of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control" on the other. While the rally took place, teens passed the flyers out to hundreds of pedestrians.

After the rally, Reality Check teens climbed up the Brooklyn Bridge to take photos of tobacco ads featuring the Bridge and NYC skyline -- with these popular images in the background. Later, teens visited NYC's Chinatown and Times Square to take similar photos. To view these photos, as well as photos of the rally, click on the links below!

Reality Check teens with banner "U.S.: GET BIG TOBACCO'S HANDS OFF NYC... SUPPORT A STRONG FCTC NOW" at rally site

Reality Check teen with sign "NYC = Smoke Free Air...Not Tobacco Addiction" (with tobacco ad for Manhattan brand, from Peru)

Reality Check coordinator with sign "U.S.: Stop Big Tobacco's Abuse of NYC Abroad...Support a Strong FCTC" (with tobacco ad featuring Broadway and "New York" brand, from Germany)

Reality Check teen with sign "U.S.: Get Big Tobacco's Hands Off NYC...Support a Strong FCTC" (with tobacco ad featuring Times Square)

Reality Check teen with sign "NYC = SmokeFree Air...Not Tobacco Addiction (features "Brooklyn" brand, from Spain)

A reporter from WMBC-TV 63 gets footage of the rally

By the end of the rally, Reality Check teens are chums with the police

Reality Check teens on Brooklyn Bridge with banner and examples of tobacco advertising from around the world that exploits NYC icons and imagery

Reality Check teen on Brooklyn Bridge with Philip Morris ad featuring the Brooklyn Bridge
(Czech Republic)

Reality Check teen with NYC skyline in back and Salem ad featuring a pack of cigarettes tipping over the NYC skyline (ad from the US)

It's a circular world: Reality Check teen (a second generation Chinese American) in NYC's Chinatown, holding a Chinese tobacco ad that features NYC

Reality Check teens in Times Square with tobacco ads from around the world that feature NYC places, including Times Square

Jessica Harvey, a Reality Check teen, in Times Square, holding a tobacco ad that features
Broadway's Chorus Line (ad from Germany)


[Note: Feel free to distribute any of these photos. When possible, please provide proper
credit. Photos that begin with "rc" were taken by Reality Check. All others were taken by
Essential Action. Contact Essential Action if you need higher resolution versions of any of
the photos]

Kamel Bereksi (Algeria), Gabriela Regueira (Argentina), Iqbal Masud (Bangladesh), Ajnija Omanic (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Tim Frasca (Chile), Eva Kralikova (Czech Republic), Thomas Gyimah-Mensah (Ghana), Alka Kapadia (India), Bobby Ramakant (India), Sekhar Salkar (India), Muna Hamzeh (Jordan), George Banja (Kenya), S. Oyuntugs (Mongolia), Seun Akioye (Nigeria), Tariq Parvez (Pakistan), Bobby del Rosario (Philippines), Rami Mohammed Diabi (Qatar), Stefan Mihaicuta (Romania), Vladimir Levshin (Russia), Dae-Hyun Kim (South Korea), Jin Sook Choi (South Korea),Pamodinee Wijayanayake (Sri Lanka), Habiba Ben Romdhane (Tunisia), Elif Dagli (Turkey), Phillip Karugaba (Uganda), Kelly French (Ukraine), Laura Roballo (Uruguay), Ricardo Granero (Venezuela), Andjelka Dzeletovic (Yugoslavia), Muyunda Ililonga (Zambia)

Upon Essential Action's return to DC, we hopped in a cab driven by an Ethiopian immigrant. The cab driver told us that he's been trying to quit smoking for over 3 years, to no avail. He began smoking Marlboros as a youngster because it symbolized the west and "freedom" to him. He called the feeling he had when smoking almost like a "hallucination", as if his was momentarily transported to Marlboro Country, to the U.S.

More information on the event and issue: Event alert

Essential Action
Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

P.O. Box 19405 ~ Washington, DC 20036
Tel: +1 202-387-8030 ~ Fax: +1 202-234-5176
Email: [email protected]