Reality Check Youth Summit participants spent three days in Cazenovia this week. On Thursday, July 12, they marched down Albany Street to Lakeland Park for a public demonstration of their message. (photo by Jason Emerson)
Last week, 150 teens from around New York state met in Cazenovia to strategize, discuss and take action against youth tobacco use and tobacco company marketing tactics.
For the second consecutive year, Reality Check of New York held its annual three-day Youth Summit at Cazenovia College, where participants learned to advocate against what they feel are the manipulative and deceptive marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. The teens work to produce change in communities through grassroots mobilization and education and empower youth across the state to become leaders in their communities.
“We’re here because we have a passion,” said Lauren Cybil, of Broome County, the 2018 New York State Youth Advocate of the Year, as she addressed the summit on July 12. “I challenge you to find leadership within yourselves.”
State Senator David Valesky (D-Oneida), also addressed the summit on its last day in Cazenovia, just before the participants took to the village streets to demonstrate their opposition to tobacco use and tobacco marketing.
“You have made a choice to get involved. … It’s a lot easier to sit back and say, ‘Let somebody else do it.’ But you decided to step up … to choose to be leaders,” Valesky said. “You are sending a message to Big Tobacco that what they’re doing is wrong … It’s really all about saving lives.”
According to Reality Check, tobacco companies spend $1 million an hour to market their products in a way that appeals to youth, with the average age of new smokers now at 13.
During the Reality Check NY summit, which took place from July 10 to 12 at Cazenovia College, youth honed their public speaking and leadership skills and made plans to fight against the tobacco industry’s influence in their communities. They attended workshops, carried out tobacco-free-themed activities and listened to national youth speakers to achieve their tobacco-free generation goals.
On Thursday, members of the summit marched from the Catherine Cummings Theater on Lincklaen Street down to Lakeland Park, where they set up multiple information areas on how youth are affected by smoking. The teens demonstrated how they believe tobacco companies’ deceptive marketing draws kids to tobacco products, using large displays of what would normally be considered kid-friendly items, such as open packs of cigarettes on the blades of a working mini-golf windmill, large cutouts of a kids’ birthday cake with cigarettes for candles, and a crayon box with cigarettes instead of crayons.
The teens also lined the sidewalks on Route 20 holding signs to inform passersby of the facts of tobacco use and to encourage them to stop in the park and see the information areas.
Students from across New York state attended the conference, including those from Chittenango and Stockbridge Valley high schools, Holy Cross school in Oneida and New Life Christian School in Hamilton.
“We are working to attract public attention to the idea that the more kids see tobacco in stores and the more they are attracted to the [youth-centered] message, the more likely they are to start using it,” said Josh Drake, of Oriskany Falls, one of the two Madison County delegates to the summit. “Nicotine is addictive, and it attracts youth. We are trying to stop that and prevent tobacco companies from creating a new generation of tobacco users.”
In addition to learning how to advocate for a cause in general and fight Big Tobacco in particular, youth summit participants said they also learned the importance of focus, drive and teamwork.
“I’ve learned that even if you’re scared you should definitely meet new people and be open to people,” said Sienna Biveau, 18, of Plattsburgh. “You can do anything you want. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.
Dakota Jeffers, of Herkimer County, agreed. “I’ve learned a lot of teamwork and leadership skills, and I’ve gotten to meet a lot of amazing people from all over New York,” she said.
For more information on Reality Check of New York and its online campaign #SeenEnoughTobacco, visit realitycheckofny.com or SeenEnoughTobacco.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.