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Syracuse Institute of Technology Hosts "Kick Butts Day" In An Effort to Stop Youth Smoking

Scott Willis

Students at Syracuse’s Institute of Technology Wednesday joined others at high schools in Syracuse and across the nation to find ways to create the first tobacco-free generation.  Wednesday’s event was part of the 23rd annual Kick Butts Day.

Dozens of ITC Students tried their hand at the prize wheel as they passed by the cafeteria during lunch periods.  Student assistance counselor Melissa Erlenbeck says they’re trying to empower students…

Credit Scott Willis
After spinning the wheel and getting their question right, students got to pick a prize.

“We’re hoping that they’re not smoking already. If they are, we’d like them to commit to quitting for a day and see how that goes and if that’s not possible, reduce their cigarettes to one or two just as a decrease. Then the overall goal as well is to stop replacement smokers. It’s all about tobacco companies marketing children.”

That’s Erica Ward, community specialist with tobacco free of Central New York, who says tobacco use is largely generational.

“We know that in New York State, the age of a new smoker is 13 years old. So they’re targeting children at such a young age, it’s this generation educating their siblings and their cousins and their family members of a much younger age to not become smokers.

And, Ward says, maybe even their peers.

Credit Scott Willis
Students also had the opportunity to sign their name on Kick Butts Day Poster.

“They’re more apt to point someone smoking where they’re not supposed to be, or if some of their peers are making some bad choices. And they like to kind of start that conversation because they have the education behind them.”

While kicking butts refers to combustible cigarettes, ITC counselor Erlenbeck says the campaign doesn’t ignore electronic cigarettes.

“It’s seen as less risky even though it’s just as risky, but they market with fruity flavors, different colors, things like that to try to appeal to that generation.”

At 8 percent, the youth smoking rate is lower than ever.  But 11.3 percent of high school students nationwide now use e-cigarettes. Erlenbeck says new laws can help, such as restricting advertising, and decreasing nicotine levels. Erica Ward says Onondaga County’s Tobacco 21 law sets a strong example, too.

Credit Scott Willis
The event at Syracuse's Institute of Technology was one of an estimated 1,000 events like it across the country.

“That’s going to be a transition period for a lot of youth because the surrounding counties aren’t there yet. So, just reinforcing the education in the youth, educating their elected officials, is what’s key because it’s coming from them.”

She says messages from youth are more likely to resonate with people in power.

Visit the Kick Butts Day Website here.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at