This year the response to help reverse youth exposure to nicotine comes in two different forms. First, during Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Prevention Week 6 Cattaraugus County teen leaders from Reality Check join more than 300 other youth from around New York State, as well as Nebraska, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Delaware, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Idaho to take on Altria Group executives and shareholders for the fifth consecutive year. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco and tobacco products.
Seven days of action, seven deadly lies
Going virtual wasn’t the only change event organizers made for 2020. As they pivoted their mindsets from travel arrangements and logistics of a live event to technology and inclusivity of a virtual one, they also extended the once three-day event to seven days.
From Monday, May 11 through Sunday, May 17, youth champions will focus their actions on seven deadly lies the industry has been telling the public for years, countered by facts and truths.
The Seven Deadly Lies are:
- Nicotine is not addictive;
- Tobacco marketing is aimed at adults;
- Using tobacco makes you cool;
- The tobacco industry is socially responsible;
- Tobacco products are not harmful;
- Flavors are not meant for kids; and
- Menthol isn’t a flavor
The teens, representing Reality Check from across New York State are mobilizing against the lies told by big tobacco companies, and are telling elected officials and people in their communities: Big Tobacco won't stop marketing their deadly products, so we can't stop the fight to share the facts about deadly tobacco products.
Some youth will take their fight right to the top – the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Altria Group, Billy Gifford. Yasmine Arabaty from Olean’s Reality Check was appointed by a shareholder to represent them and address corporate tobacco executives and ask a question on May 14 during the virtual shareholders’ meeting. Yasmine asked about the difference between heating elements in the new heat not burn product IQOS and regular cigarettes. Yasmine was joined by 6 other youth who were able to ask the CEO a question.
“Philip Morris USA claims it doesn’t market to kids and doesn’t want them to start smoking,” said Jon Chaffee, coordinator of the Reality Check program of Tobacco Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany. “If that’s the case, then why is the tobacco industry spending $9.6 billion per year to market their products where kids are likely to see them?”
Studies show that kids who shop in stores with tobacco marketing, such as gas stations and convenience stores two or more times a week are 64% more likely to start smoking than their friends who don’t shop where tobacco is marketed.
“Despite what they say, Philip Morris USA spends billions marketing their deadly products right in front of us,” said Yasmine Arabaty, Olean High School freshman and Reality Check champion. “And this is only one of the lies they tell. Enough is enough, already!”
Here are more facts:
- According to the 2014 Surgeon General's Report, if current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million Americans younger than 18 who are alive today are projected to die prematurely from smoking-related disease.
- The average age of new smoker in New York State is 13 years old.
In preparation for the virtual demonstration on Thursday, May 14, Reality Check youth will spend the days leading up to the meeting, plus three days after, learning about tobacco control policies, how the tobacco industry contracts with retailers to get their products and messages in front of youth audiences, and how they can stand up, speak out and make a difference in the fight against Big Tobacco.
Virtual speakers and trainers include Dr. Phillip Gardiner, a public health activist, administrator, evaluator and researcher with the University of California's Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, as well as leaders of Dover Youth 2 Youth of Dover, NH and Counter Tools of Chapel Hill, NC.
Secondly, New York State protects youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction by passing laws that ends the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New York State on May 18, as does the sale of all tobacco products in pharmacies. These are huge steps forward for New Yorkers health and wellbeing. Research shows that the flavors in e-cigarettes attract kids and the nicotine addicts them.ii Nearly 40% of high school seniors in New York State use e-cigarettes, also referred to as “vaping,” and 27% of all high school youth vape.iii Ending the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies reduces the number of stores that sell tobacco products in every community, an effective way of supporting tobacco users who want to quit and reducing youth exposure to tobacco marketing. Hopefully, these measures will help to get youth exposure to nicotine back on the right track and decreasing.
New York State does have a resource for young people who are trying to quit is help, which can be found by texting “DropTheVape” to 88709. All young people who currently use any tobacco product is encouraged to quit, and youth who don’t currently use a tobacco product are encouraged to not start.
 Flavored Tobacco Products Attract Kids: Brief Overview of Key Issues, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Dec. 2019, https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/us-resources/fact-sheet/flavored-tobacco-products-attract-kids-brief-overview-of-key-issues
 NYS Dept. of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control, StatShot Vol. 12, No. 4/Oct 2019, Trends in Electronic Cigarette Use Among High School Youth NYS-YTS 2014-2018: https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/tobacco_control/reports/statshots/volume12/n4_ecig_trends.pdf