As I realize (with a start) that Valentines Day is tomorrow (OMG…I forgot to get a boyfriend again this year) I think of an issue that I deal every day at Tobacco-Free Erie-Niagara. Tobacco and Valentine’s have something in common? Who knew?

Most would see no connection between the candy-infused, romantic holiday and my career path, but there are striking similarities. For example, as we’re all bombarded with dozens of commercials like “He Went To Jared’s” and the awkward teen presenting his love with a Coke, I’m reminded  just how often we ‘re exposed to marketing from the tobacco industry.

In particular, packs of Cherry Skoal and Mango Cigarillos look like straight up candy. Don’t believe me? Take a look at a tin of Icebreakers and compare it to a can of chew. The tobacco industry has discovered creative ways of marketing to get around the laws prohibiting advertising on TV ads and billboards. Without Joe Camel to cash in on profits, the industry has turned to eye-popping fluorescent colors, posters plastered on gas station doors, and placing their products right next to M&Ms and Snickers. With tactics like these, kids (and adults for that matter) are unable to look elsewhere as they purchase daily essentials from gas stations and convenience stores.

This promotion has become so commonplace that teens don’t even recognize that they’re being targeted to start picking up the addictive habit. But there’s reason why 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18. The tobacco industry loves their influx of young customers so much that they’re willing to pay a million dollars an hour on marketing in the U.S. alone. That kind of effort equates to smothering in my book.

So this Valentines Day, whether you’re at  a “Gal”-entines brunch or a candle-lit dinner for two, I’d suggest sticking to traditional favorites like the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Forgo the tobacco!

By Lindsay Amico, Reality Check Coordinator, Tobacco-Free Erie-Niagara