Reality Check youth meet with lawmakers

From left are Reality Check youth from Clyde-Savannah and Waterloo schools Vanessa Hill, Aiden Thompson, Samantha Holmes, and Sarah Large.

Youth participating in Tobacco Action Coalition of the Finger Lakes’s Reality Check program recently visited the state Capitol in Albany where they met with state Sen. Pam Helming and Assemblyman Brian Manktelow.

They talked about the success of their local tobacco control program at helping lower the statewide smoking rate and also about the unmet needs in tobacco control efforts, particularly among highest need communities. Throughout New York, just over 19 percent of those who earn less than $25,000 a year and who have less than a high school education smoke cigarettes, as do 26 percent of those who experience poor mental health.

Tobacco use rates are as high as 24.5 percent in the Coalition’s four-county area, a full 10 percent higher than the state average adult smoking rate, which has dropped to a historic-low of 14.2 percent.

Cigarette smoking among New York’s high school youth has recently reversed a years-long trend, increasing slightly for the first time since 2002. At the same time, electronic cigarette use among the state’s middle and high schoolers continues to rise. Between 2014 and 2018, the rate increased fully 160 percent, from 10.5 percent to 27.4 percent, and studies show e-cigarettes can be a precursor to cigarette smoking in youth.

Reality Check Youth discussed tobacco and e-cigarette use while traveling back from Albany and were asked about the perception of harm among their peers.

Samantha Holmes, ninth-grade Waterloo CSD student shared, “Teens haven’t been educated enough and there should be more studies.”

More than half of teens falsely believe e-cigarettes are harmless. In reality, adolescent nicotine exposure can cause addiction, it can harm the developing adolescent brain and it can increase the risk of adolescents starting and continuing smoking combustible cigarettes.

During meetings in Albany, the Coalition and their Tobacco Control Program partners from around the state educated lawmakers about their tobacco control work with local communities and health care organizations, including these critical areas of need. In The Well of the Legislative Office Building, youth leaders hosted an interactive, life-sized board game called “Tobacco Trouble” set up to highlight recent tobacco control successes and the continued fight against Big Tobacco and how the tobacco industry has overfilled the state’s retail outlets with tobacco products.

The CDC recommends that the Tobacco Control Programs in New York state be funded with $203 million, yet actual funding for these programs totals only $39 million. The health and economic burdens of tobacco-use could be significantly reduced if these programs were fully funded.

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Tobacco Action Coalition of the Finger Lakes is funded by the New York State Tobacco Control Program through a grant administered by the American Lung Association.

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