Cortland youth attend training to act against 'Big Tobacco'


Editor's Note: The following article was written by Melissa Potter, public health educator and Reality Check coordinator for the Cortland County Health Department.

On October 23, 2016, over 75 Reality Check Youth Leaders and tobacco control staff from across 15 counties – Cortland, Tompkins, Chenango, Broome, Tioga, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Cayuga, Oswego, Onondaga, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne, and Yates – gathered at Orenda Springs Experiential Learning Center in Marcellus, NY to meet, bond, organize and act against Big Tobacco.

Reality Check held a day-long training for new and current Reality Check youth members. Youth, between the ages of 13 and 18, had the opportunity to bond and work on team building activities, which included low and high ropes courses. The staff at Orenda encouraged youth to foster a deeper understanding of self, others, and nature – focusing on skills like leadership, communication, passion, trust and many more. They discovered the power within themselves and others to expand beyond their personal limits and positively impact the world around them. In addition, they all participated in an interactive training on Reality Check initiatives led by 3 youth leaders, Katie Couture, Kelsey Gibbons and Charlene Kolts, which included brainstorming activities for point-of- sale, tobacco-free outdoors and smoke-free movies.

“In Reality Check, it’s important to work as a team and the different activities at Orenda, especially the low ropes course taught us that. It was really cool to see and use different leadership styles, said Kelsey Gibbons, 16, of Cortland.

“It was great to see so many youth come together to support a great cause and learn skills that they can use in their life, as well as in Reality Check,” said Kat Rhinehart, teacher and Relay for Life advisor at Cortland Junior Senior High School.

According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, if current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million Americans younger than 18, who are alive today, are projected to die prematurely from smoking-related disease.

According to Cortland Area Communities that Care Pride Survey, 26.7% of Cortland County youth in grades 9-12 reported smoking cigarettes in their lifetime. The age of first use of tobacco for those students is 13 years old. Research shows that the earlier a person starts smoking, specifically a teenager, the more likely they are to become addicted to nicotine.

“We have a lot of work to do in educating our community and letting everyone know what the tobacco industry is up to, especially the way they market their products that appeal to youth, said Katie Couture, 17, of Cortland.”

Tobacco marketing and sales in stores near schools is a particular concern because teens that pass by or shop at these stores are routinely exposed to pro-tobacco messaging. Exposure to point-of- sale advertising and promotions prompts smoking initiation, encourages tobacco use, aids unplanned purchases, and undermines quit attempts. In New York State, 51 % of tobacco retailers fall within 1,000 feet of a school, so it is not surprising that youth are more likely to use tobacco, as well as purchase, when stores are located within a short distance of their schools.

Exposure to tobacco marketing in stores is a primary cause of youth smoking. To protect our youth, licensing is a powerful tool that can help minimize pro-drug messaging and help to reduce youth and adult tobacco use.

For more information on Reality Check or tobacco marketing visit or contact Reality Check Coordinator Melissa Potter 607-756- 3416; [email protected] or Community Engagement Coordinator Jennifer Hamilton 607-758- 5501; [email protected].