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  • Melissa Potter

Two Cortland Students Win Statewide and Central Region Youth Advocate of the Year Awards and Visit w

Cortland High School Senior Katherine Couture and Junior Kelsey Gibbons were selected to win the Statewide and Central Regional Youth Advocate of the Year Award, sponsored by Reality Check of the Bureau of Tobacco Control in New York State. The annual award honors the outstanding work of youth advocates who have taken the lead in holding the tobacco companies accountable for marketing to youth. Kelsey was selected as one of four regional winners and Katherine was selected as the Statewide winner, announced Tuesday, February 7th at the Legislative Office Building ceremony in Albany.

“We are excited to have won this award, but there is still a lot of work to do to educate our lawmakers on how valuable and important our work is to prevent tobacco use and save lives and money in our community,” said Katie Couture, 17, of Cortland.

Youth and tobacco control program contractors gathered at the New York State Capitol on February 7, 2017 to educate lawmakers about the value of New York State (NYS) Tobacco Control Programs (TCP) and the increasing support among decision makers at the local level for tobacco-control policies. TCP have been proven to reduce youth smoking and help current smokers quit, which saves lives and millions of state tax dollars. However, higher rates of smoking persist among individuals with less than a high school education (22.4%), income less than $25,000 a year (22.2%) and those with poor mental health (27.2%).

“We’ve made great strides in combatting the tobacco epidemic, but more work needs to be done to reduce the significantly higher smoking rates among disparate populations in our region and throughout the state,” said Melissa Potter, Reality Check Coordinator at the Cortland County Health Department.

That’s the message Reality Check youth delivered to state lawmakers in Albany. Participating in the legislative visits were Katherine Couture, 17; Kelsey Gibbons, 16, Sara Hubbard, 16, Brock Stark, 14, and Troy Platt, 17, students from Cortland Junior Senior High School, their Relay for Life Club Advisor and teacher, Kat Rhinehart and Reality Check Coordinator, Melissa Potter. They met with Senator James Seward and Assemblyman Gary Finch.

Annually, the group visits the New York State Capitol to educate lawmakers about the success of established tobacco control programs and opportunities to further reduce the burden of tobacco addiction on New Yorkers. They described the valuable work being done in Cortland County to reduce smoking rates and to keep youth from starting smoking, which begins at 13 years old, on average.

The New York State Tobacco Control Program efforts are leading the way toward a tobacco-free society. For more information on Reality Check or tobacco marketing, visit

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