Cortland teens' project exposes Big Tobacco

The following is a republished press release and NOT an article written by The Cortland Voice…to submit a community announcement, email Peter Blanchard at [email protected].

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By Melissa Potter
Public Health Educator, Cortland County Health Department

The fight against tobacco is about saving lives. It’s also about exposing the deceptive and manipulative practices of the tobacco industry that they use to target youth, which is the goal of Reality Check, a Tobacco Free Zone program through the Cortland County Health Department.

Reality Check youth representatives from Cortland Junior Senior High School presented to the Cortland School District Board of Education Tuesday night on the impact of tobacco marketing at local retailers, here in the City of Cortland. “One way we know how to win the fight against tobacco is by preventing kids from starting to smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products,” said Charlene Kolts, 16, of Cortland. “One strategy is at the point-of-sale.”

Tobacco marketing at the point-of-sale most commonly occurs at gas stations, convenient stores, pharmacies, electronic cigarette retailers, smoke shops and retailers that sell drug paraphernalia. Point-of-sale promotions include exterior and interior tobacco advertisements, price discounts, product placement strategies and power walls. “Youth are targeted before you walk into the store," said Katherine Couture, 16, of Cortland.

"Advertisements begin on the walls and windows of these stores with big, colorful ads that are often at eye level of a young child,” Couture added. “Attractive images of tobacco products can be found alongside ads for snacks and treats that kids know and love, such as candy, soda, and ice cream.”

According to the most recent Surgeon General’s report, research shows that this type of marketing is a primary cause of youth smoking. The tobacco industry spends $9.6 billion each year of their marketing budget to promote their deadly products at the retail environment. In New York State, that is just under a million dollars per day.

They also educated the board on electronic cigarettes, as they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are becoming popular among youth and young adults. Electronic cigarette companies are using strategies from Big Tobacco’s “playbook” to lure people in to start using their products. They try to sell a lifestyle or image, as well as use bright colors, cool cases, flavors and popular kid-friendly brands, such as Hello Kitty and superhero themed vape pens. Electronic cigarettes are also being used by youth and young adults as a drug delivery device – replacing nicotine with other drugs such as marijuana.

Currently, there are 47 tobacco and electronic cigarette retailers in Cortland County. Within the City of Cortland, 84% of those retailers fall within 1500 ft of proximity to schools. Children and teenagers are routinely exposed to tobacco marketing on a daily basis while on their way to school. Many students that walk or ride the city school buses may pass a tobacco retailer at least once per day.

At the end of the presentation, Charlene and Katherine educated the school board on a solution that many municipalities across New York State are working on to protect youth from tobacco marketing, which is to adopt local licensing regulations that prevent tobacco sales, as well as smoking paraphernalia/device sales, near school property. A letter of support was presented to the school board of education to discuss and consider signing to protect youth in our community. Licensing is a powerful tool that can help minimize pro-drug messaging and help to reduce youth and adult tobacco use.

For more information about the harmful effects of tobacco marketing in retail stores, visit or contact Reality Check Coordinator Melissa Potter 607-756-3416; [email protected] or Community Engagement Coordinator Jennifer Hamilton 607-758-5501; [email protected].

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