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February 11, 2020 - 4:54pm

Trio of Notre Dame students met with lawmakers in Albany last week about tobacco control

Submitted photo and press release:

Tobacco-Free Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties (TF-GOW) and Reality Check youth champions from Notre Dame High School were at the New York Capitol on Feb. 4, talking with lawmakers about the success of the state’s Tobacco Control Program.

Notre Dame freshman Morgan Wahl, junior Benjamin Streeter, and senior Maddie Payton joined a pair of Reality Check peers from Warsaw High School in the Albany rally, Shelby Pietron and Katie Pietron. Brittany Bozzer, Reality Check coordinator at TF-GOW attended, too.

They focused their messaging on lowering the average smoking rate to 12.8 percent and about the unmet needs in tobacco control efforts, particularly among youth and certain communities. They met with Assemblyman Stephen Hawley and Assemblyman David DiPietro.

During legislative meetings, the youth stressed that cigarette smoking among high school youth statewide declined 82 percent between 2000 and 2018, but e-cigarette use by high schoolers continues to rise, now at 27 percent. In contrast, only 3.8 percent of adult New Yorkers use e-cigarettes. Additionally, nearly 40 percent 12th-graders use e-cigarettes statewide.

Research shows that youth who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to start smoking conventional cigarettes than their peers who do not vape.

“Successfully reducing the average adult smoking rate to 12.8 percent in New York State is a significant achievement, but new and emerging nicotine products—like e-cigarettes—could reverse the substantial gains we’ve made in reducing smoking,” Bozzer said.

“We know that marketing attracts youth to e-cigarettes, and flavors are what gets them to try them. Nicotine is what keeps them addicted.”

Higher smoking rates among certain communities

New Yorkers with low education, low income and reporting frequent mental distress smoke at higher rates than the state average.

“Although the average smoking rate is down, cigarette smoking rates among certain communities are considerably higher than average," Bozzer said. "For example, throughout New York State, 25.5 percent of adults reporting frequent mental distress smoke cigarettes, as do 20 percent of those with less than a high school education and nearly 20 percent of those with an annual household income of less than $25,000.

“Income, education, and mental health status shouldn’t determine smoking rates, but they do, and our program has a local and statewide program in place to further tobacco-free norms."

While at the Capitol, the Notre Dame youth talked with lawmakers about work being done in their communities and provided an interactive display in The Well of the Legislative Office Building, revealing the true facts behind Big Tobacco’s misleading marketing.

More Facts: The Costs of Tobacco Use in New York State

  • Annual health care costs directly caused by smoking in the state are $10.39 billion;
  • This expense results in a tax burden of $1,410 for each household every year;
  • There are 28,200 deaths in New York State each year due to smoking, and thousands who are living with illnesses related to tobacco use;
  • The CDC recommends a $203 million annual investment in New York State’s Tobacco Control Program; the state’s investment is $39 million.

Reality Check New York empowers youth to become leaders in their community in exposing what they see as the manipulative and deceptive marketing tactics of the tobacco industry.

The organization’s members produce change in their communities through grassroots mobilization and education. Reality Check in this area is affiliated with Tobacco-Free Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming Counties (TF-GOW) program managed by Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The NYS Tobacco Control Program is made up of a network of statewide contractors who work on Advancing Tobacco-Free Communities, which includes Community Engagement and Reality Check, the Health Systems for a Tobacco-Free New York, the NYS Smokers’ Quitline and Surveillance and Research.

Their efforts are leading the way toward a tobacco-free society. For more information, visit:

Photo: Back row (from left) Maddie Payton, Benjamin Streeter, as well as Notre Dame freshman Morgan Wahl (kneeling in front) took in the grandeur of the New York State Senate Chambers on their recent trip to educate lawmakers at the NYS Capitol. Earlier that day, they talked with Assemblyman David DiPietro, right, about tobacco control work being done in their communities and revealed the true facts behind Big Tobacco’s misleading marketing. Also pictured (middle row, from left) are Warsaw High School students Shelby Pietron, Katie Pietron, and Brittany Bozzer, Reality Check coordinator at TF-GOW.

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