BY KATE BUNSTER
Eighteen schools in the Capital Region have united in a movement against the marketing of tobacco to youth. Since Nov. 12, “Reality Check Youth” members have decorated the grounds of their schools with 203 reasons to quit tobacco marketing to kids. The signs will raise awareness to their peers and the community. At Iroquois Middle School, students in the EPIC Club have joined forces with Reality Check Youth to make this movement possible.
One of those students is Ethan Rackliffe, an eighth-grader at Iroquois who has been involved with “empowering his peers to inspire change.” He, along with the other members of Reality Check and EPIC, are troubled by the frequency in which kids can unknowingly interact with tobacco ads each day.
“There is a Stewart’s right near the High School near the ShopRite plaza. A lot of students go there on their lunch break and will see these ads,” said Rackliffe.
EPIC Club and Reality Check has had the most participation this year, according to Kelsey Madden, the youth engagement coordinator for Reality Check.
Reality check participation isn’t just limited to the middle school though. Kasey McKenna, a senior at Niskayuna High School took the initiate to take her message to the Niskayuna Town Board at its Nov. 12 meeting, presenting what they have been working on.
The club is also working on a retailer density map of locations that sell tobacco and alcohol in close proximity to the school to present to the Town Board in the future. They hope that by doing so, they can get restrictions placed on future retailers that want to move into the community.
Each one of the 203 sign contains an alarming statistic about smoking and tobacco marketing. To signify the 29 smokers under the age of 18 that become smokers each day in New York, some schools will also place 29 markers on their grounds.
About 90 percent of the tobacco industry’s marketing budget each year goes into retail stores, according to the DOH. Unlike liquor stores, minors are able to enter stores where tobacco is sold, which exposes them to tobacco marketing at an early age.
“Young people get really mixed messages…they’ve grown up in an era where everyone knows that tobacco kills,” said Michelle Kline, Reality Check Coordinator in Columbia and Greene Counties, in a press release. “But at their corner store, the neighborhood gas station and the local pharmacy, they see large displays of tobacco…if tobacco is so deadly, why is it so visible and accessible everywhere they go?”
This is a question that Reality Check youth students wish to answer.
Through both of these programs, Madden has been blown away by the positive, energetic and productive discussions she has with the students.
“There’s been a big cultural shift. A lot of kids have interest in getting involved in something and having a positive impact on their community,” said Madden.