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Tobacco Free CNY helps teens educate other teens about the harms of menthol

Participants from the Tobacco Free CNY Reality Check Youth Summit.
John Smith
Participants from the Tobacco Free CNY Reality Check Youth Summit.

Members of ‘Tobacco Free CNY Reality Check’ recently joined with 70 teens for a statewide Youth Summit at Keuka College to learn how to raise more awareness about the negative impacts of tobacco and targeted marketing. Youth educate others in their schools and communities about the addictive effects of menthol cigarettes and the overall harmful health effects of nicotine and vaping. Onondaga County Program Coordinator Antonio Palmer says participants at the summit were very creative in getting the point across that smoking is unhealthy.

"To express kinda again what the tobacco industry is doing so, some youth use quotes, others use like images, I remember this one young gentleman drew a coffin and I believe there was like a cigarette or something with a message next to it. So, they really got creative, like tapped into their creativity to really express the messages,” Palmer said.

He adds the summit with other Reality Check members across the State is about uniting and carrying out their mission to speak out against the tobacco industry’s targeted youth marketing. Two Recent ITC graduates in the Syracuse City School District participated in the summit. Ali Kareem says he was empowered by what he experienced at the Reality Check Youth Summit

"I was surrounded by lots of people who actually like care about the health and well-being [of] others. I mean, they're engaging in the activity, they're listening to the speakers," Kareem said.

Kareem wants to continue helping the local Reality Check chapter to keep reaching out to youth in creative ways to prevent them from smoking. Michelle Tran also plans to do the same, and for some very personal reasons.

"Some people around me just smoke and I guess like my family, not a lot of them smoking, and saying join reality check so I know how to take care of myself, to educate other people, you know it benefits me," Tran said.

Tran says being a part of the program has really benefitted her. Reality Check Coordinator Palmer says it’s important to keep reaching out to minority communities who are disproportionately impacted by tobacco marketing.

"Such as African Americans, and then LGBTQ populations, they market these disadvantaged communities because they know if they get them to use this menthol product, which is easier to start and harder to quit, they're going to be hooked pretty much for life," Palmer said.

New York State banned the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes in May of 2020. However, Tobacco Free CNY says the popularity of vaping still remains the top used tobacco product among youth residents in the State at 22%.