Tobacco Free Network, Reality Check Send Students to Albany

FULTON, NY – The Tobacco Free Network of CNY is a grant funded state-wide initiative at Integrated Community Planning of Oswego County, Inc.

TFN is a nonprofit organization that serves Oswego, Cayuga and Onondaga counties to promote a tobacco-free norm by targeting four objectives: Point of Sale, to limit the amount of tobacco product marketing in communities; Tobacco Free Outdoors, to increase the legalities that prohibit tobacco in outdoor areas; Multi-Unit Housing, to work with landlords and tenants to limit second hand smoke exposure in multi-unit housing; and Smoke Free Media, to reduce the exposure of tobacco marketing on the internet, in youth rated movies, and in other forms of media.

Community Engagement Coordinator, Joseph Wicks said TFN lists many successes throughout Oswego County that demonstrate the organizations dedication to establishing a tobacco-free norm in communities throughout CNY.

Of those, he noted a tobacco-free 35-foot radius at all Oswego County owned and leased properties, as well as tobacco-free initiatives effectively put in place in such places as the Fulton and Oswego farmers’ markets, Fulton Mill Apartments, SUNY Oswego campus, and the Fulton Cayuga Community College campus, to name a few.

TFN is home to Reality Check, a New York State youth led movement that targets tobacco companies and their marketing strategies that appeal to youth.

The local Reality Check program is preparing to send four students from the catchment areas to Albany, NY for Legislative Day on February 7.

One student from G. Ray Bodley High School in Fulton, one student from Paul V. Moore High School in Central Square and two students from ITC in Syracuse will travel to the state capitol to meet with state legislators along with 25 other contracts from Reality Check programs throughout the state.

Reality Check program coordinator Kathleen Knoop-Haney said the students will meet with elected officials from their region and throughout the state to hold a press conference to update and advocate their cause by educating the legislators on the importance of tobacco control policy in the state.

“It’s exciting. Our legislative elected officials always enjoy hearing from young people. I think to hear their point of view on what is happening in our communities is important to them. As young people, they may not be the most intricate speakers, but I think they speak from the heart and that makes them impactful speakers,” Knoop-Haney said.

In addition to voicing themselves to local government, the students will have the opportunity to participate in other activities throughout the day.

A large map of New York State will be used to provide a detailed depiction of the state broken down by counties.

Each program will take photos of the point of sales marketing techniques in their community and will compare how these marketing techniques differ in locations throughout the state.

Students will also perform a song they wrote together regarding legislation on tobacco products at the NYS Youth Summit in July of 2016 to be recorded and shared through various social media and internet channels with the intent to reach as many people as possible.

Finally, the students will be present for the Youth Advocate of the Year Award.

The day will be both eventful and exciting, Knoop-Haney said, but also rewarding for all the hard work and dedication local students put into their work with Reality Check.

Reality Check is open for middle and high school students ages 13-18 that hope to educate their peers and community members on the tobacco markets attempts to target young people.

According to Knoop-Haney, 90% of smokers are introduced to tobacco before their eighteenth birthday largely because tobacco companies spend billions of dollars a year to put their marketing in the faces of the youth.

“We recruit young people, that’s our main focus – to give our young people a chance to use their voice to create an environment they want for themselves and other kids. To have a voice at the table, they have to be at the table. It’s only fair to see their views of their own communities and to understand what they see as valuable,” she said.

Reality Check does much more than educate students on tobacco marketing strategies, however.

“The students learn soft skills like how to present in public in a way that invites people to talk and participate, we advocate and educate, we develop group skills and project development,” Knoop-Haney listed.

Local students have participated in the Great American Smoke Out by creating a five-foot three-dimensional coffin and skeleton surrounded by tobacco facts to display for their peers.

They have also created three-dimensional art displays to exemplify smoking in youth rated movies with the intended goal of movies depicting tobacco use to be rated R or removed.

Students have even participated in local park clean ups, using the cigarette butts collected as a display to showcase how much smoking occurs in public parks.

The students meet on a monthly basis at which time they decide their projects and plans and work to implement them throughout the month.

Legislative Day is yet another opportunity for Reality Check students to showcase their hard work and represent both the Tobacco Free Network of CNY and Reality Check with their tireless efforts to create a more livable tobacco-free community for all to enjoy.

“The students learn a lot,” Knoop-Haney said. “And they get to bring back those conversations to their communities, that’s the important piece.”