Op-Ed: Meet Flat Phil

New social media campaign targets Big Tobacco marketing in NYC

The more tobacco marketing kids see, the more likely they are to smoke. The vast majority of the tobacco industry’s marketing is focused at the point of sale – behind the cash registers and counters of retailers where tobacco products are sold. For tobacco companies, these retailers (mostly bodegas, convenience stores and pharmacies in New York City) are the primary place to constantly expose youth to their products. Most NYC young people shop in these local retailers, where they are bombarded by aggressive tobacco marketing.  Over time, after seeing this overabundance of tobacco ads, smoking and tobacco marketing become normalized. Enter Flat Phil.

Flat Phil was created by SmokeFree Project youth interns at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Flat Phil is a caricature of a tobacco company executive that we are using to raise awareness around the effect of Big Tobacco on our lives and neighborhoods. With Flat Phil, we are asking people to go around the city and take pictures of him in front of tobacco advertisements, walls of cigarettes, youth smoking, cigarette butts on the ground and any other scenes that illustrate the impact of the tobacco industry in their community. The Flat Phil project is a fun and engaging activity that will raise awareness of the aggressive marketing tactics of tobacco companies, especially towards youth.

Eighty-eight percent of adults who smoke daily start smoking by age 18; it is not a coincidence that 75 percent of tobacco retailers in NYC are located within 1,000 feet of a school. We are collecting pictures of Flat Phil from all five boroughs and sharing them on social media to fight against the growing prevalence of Big Tobacco, create awareness (especially among young people), and educate everyone about the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics.

To learn more about how to become involved with the Flat Phil project, go to NYCSmokeFree.org/flatphil and you’ll find various resources, printable Flat Phil templates, a Flat Phil curriculum, facts about tobacco and cigarettes, and links to his social media pages. 

Erin McCarron, LMSW, is the LGBT SmokeFree Project Coordinator at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (208 W 13th St, btw Seventh and Eight Aves.).  For more information, visit gaycenter.org.

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