By Joseph Davis, SmokeFree Project Intern
My name is Joseph Davis and I am a SmokeFree Intern at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. I joined this internship because I understand how easy it is to be a target. When I was in junior high school, I was verbally and physically bullied for being gay. Because of this experience of being rejected, I had isolated myself and looked for something that was “comforting.” A cigarette was the only friend I had that didn’t judge me, didn’t tell me what to do, didn’t tell me who I should and shouldn’t be.
It wasn’t until I was about 19 years old that I noticed that my “friend” started to deceive me. My “friend” was making me tired and weak, making it hard for me to breathe and pushing my real friends and family away. My final push to quit was when I struggled to keep my breath while performing in a dance show at the LGBT Community Center. Since that show, my family and friends have been extremely supportive and encouraged me to give up this debilitating habit. I have now been smoke-free for two-and-a-half years and am very thankful for it.
As an intern for the SmokeFree Project, I work to empower and educate young people about how the tobacco industry targets us. They’re trying to get to us through advertisements in our local bodegas and pharmacies. Not long ago, I took my 4-year-old niece to the bodega. As we waited at the cash register, my niece was staring at a wall of tobacco products. Pointing at the cigarette packages, she asked, “Uncle Joseph…what is that?” and “Can I have one?”. Studies show that youth are twice as likely as adults to recall tobacco ads, and this is a perfect example of how the tobacco companies target youth by making their products very visible to children. It is no surprise that our youth start smoking at such an early age.
The SmokeFree interns speak to community boards, elected officials and other youth organizations across New York City about this issue. We also hosted an event that educated and empowered young people – especially those in the LGBT community – about aggressive tobacco marketing here in New York City. The event consisted of presentations by the SmokeFree interns, an anti-tobacco commercial competition, an anti-tobacco t-shirt contest and anti-tobacco button making. All of these activities raised awareness about high LGBT smoking rates and how young people are targeted to be the next generation of addicted smokers.
Since becoming an intern with the SmokeFree Project, I have realized how much my family, friends and I are all affected by smoking advertisements and I know that my work as an advocate will continue well beyond the internship. It is my goal to make sure that ALL youth become aware of this issue and that we continue to encourage young people to live a healthy, smoke-free life.
For more information about the SmokeFree Project, please visit www.gaycenter.org/health/smokefree or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thesmokefreeproject.