“Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate,” Harvey Fierstein, actor, playwright and screenwriter once said. And, that’s precisely why the American Heart Association’s Tobacco Endgame movement hosted its first ever art contest.
“We know tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of disease and death, including cardiovascular disease, in the world,” explained Shana Bedi, the program manager for Tobacco Endgame. “But tobacco isn’t just a health issue – it’s also an environmental issue.”
The American Heart Association created the activation to bring awareness of the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day, taking place May 31. This year’s theme – “Tobacco: Threat to Our Environment” illuminates the damage cultivating and consuming tobacco does not only to our bodies, but also to our waterways, soil and air.
For example, cigarette butts are one of the most common types of litter in the world. They wind up on beaches and in waterways and kill the turtles, birds and fish that think they are food. And while the e-cigarette industry touts its products as less wasteful, they aren’t. These products bring, plastic, heavy metals (lead and mercury) and flammable batteries into our environment. E-cigarette devices don’t biodegrade; instead, they break down into microplastics and chemicals that pollute the water we drink and the soil our food grows in.
“We wanted youth to express how the tobacco industry poisons both our planet and our bodies with their deadly products in a creative way,” Bedi said. “We are so impressed with the unique submissions we received.”
In all, Tobacco Endgame received nearly two dozen original pieces of art – ranging from paintings, posters and poems to visual demonstrations and drawings – from teens and young adults from across the nation.
Odessa Durante - Painting
Title: "Dwindling Health"
It represents on the left side how tobacco negatively effects the environment and the body. The trees are bare, no animals are around, the skies are dark, and the heart is decaying. On the right side the heart is healthy, the fields are flowering, and there is so much more life. This piece demonstrates how tobacco threatens the world around us and can impact everybody on the planet, not just the people putting tobacco in their bodies.
Marion L. Steele High School in Amherst, Ohio - Artistic Demonstration
What does this piece represent? How big tobacco has the ability to create addiction. With addiction you have the power to control human behavior. Often this behavior may affect the environment in a negative way to help feed the addiction. How does it incorporate the WNTD theme: Tobacco: Threat to Our Environment? We feel humans make the largest impact on the environment. If we can influence their choices to NOT vape, we may contribute less pollution as well as a healthier population.
Zara Nadeem - Poem
Title: “The Battle”
It represents the battle our youth faces with the prevalent and raging vaping epidemic. My poem incorporates the WNTD theme, “Tobacco: Threat to Our Environment”, because it describes how vaping and tobacco have had detrimental effects on our health and how it’s marketed to be deceptive. It affects our physical health but also is a battle ongoing for too long now and we need to create a better future where vaping can no longer blur us, having a healthier generation with a cleaner environment to thrive in.
While the Tobacco Endgame contest is over, the hard work to hold the tobacco industry accountable is far from it. The American Heart Association is committed to the goal of ending tobacco use and nicotine addiction in all communities nationwide.
“Reducing tobacco use and nicotine addiction must be identified as key factors to achieve longer, healthier lives and a better, more sustainable future for all,” Bedi said. “Tobacco companies must be held responsible for the health impact of tobacco use and environmental and economic costs of tobacco product waste.”