top of page
  • Melissa Potter

Tobacco Free Zone and Reality Check Youth Leaders Educated State Lawmakers About Tobacco Control Pro

Reality Check

New York State (NYS) Tobacco Control Partners and youth supporters were at the Capitol February 6, 2018 focusing not only on their successes, but on the unmet needs in tobacco control efforts around the state, particularly among highest need communities. Throughout New York, 33.7% of those with mental illness, 27.5% with less than a high school education and 26.8% who earn less than $15,000 a year smoke cigarettes.

“We celebrate the adult smoking rate dropping to an all-time low of 14.2 percent.” said Deborah Mendzef, St. Joseph’s Health Systems for Tobacco-Free NY. “However, while this is great news the fight isn’t over. We need to ensure that all New Yorkers regardless of income, education, race or mental health status, are given the help they need to quit tobacco use and, more importantly, to live in an environment that makes it less likely they will become addicted to the single leading cause of preventable death and disease in our state.”

NYS Tobacco Control Partners have contributed substantially to the drop in tobacco use rates among adults and youth through evidence-based practices, policy-driven and cost effective approaches to decrease youth tobacco initiation and support current tobacco users to quit. These approaches are now being focused on communities and populations with high tobacco use rates, especially those with poor mental health, low education and low income.

Another population that warrants attention is youth. While youth smoking rates have significantly declined, electronic cigarette use among the state’s middle and high schoolers has doubled from 2014-2016[i], and studies show e-cigarettes can be a precursor to cigarette smoking in youth, even those who were not likely to smoke cigarettes.[ii]

“I see classmates using electronic cigarettes much more frequently than regular cigarettes.” said Sara Hubbard, Cortland High School Reality Check Youth Leader “As a Reality Check youth this is alarming as my peers don’t realize that using these products are harmful.”

In Albany, Tobacco Free Zone, Reality Check and St. Joseph’s Health Systems, educated lawmakers about their tobacco control work with local communities and health care organizations, including these critical areas of need. Participating in legislative visits were Cortland Junior Senior High School students Kelsey Gibbons, 17, and Sara Hubbard, 17, their Relay for Life Club Adviser and teacher, Kat Chambers, Trumansburg High School students Ellie Gardener, 14, and Morgan Weatherby, 14, Norwich High School students Steven King, 18, Morgan Burdick, 16, Maddi Lamphere, 14, and Tina Lamphere, 16, as well as their Adviser Rhett Genung and Reality Check Coordinators, Melissa Potter and Rose Walsh. They met with Senator James Seward, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, Assemblyman Crouch, Senator Akshar and Assemblyman Gary Finch.

Kelsey Gibbons, Senior at Cortland High School was also recognized with an Honorable Mention for Youth Advocate of the Year 2018. She received an award and a resolution from NYS Assembly.

“State-funded Tobacco Control Programs prevent youth tobacco use and reduce adult smoking rates and ultimately save lives and millions of state tax dollars,” said Melissa Potter, Reality Check Coordinator for Cortland and Tompkins Counties. “But, as this data about New Yorkers with low income, low education, mental illness and youth tobacco use show, when it comes to deadly and addictive tobacco use, the fight to save their lives isn’t over.”

The CDC recommends that the Tobacco Control Programs in NYS be funded with $203 million, yet actual funding for these programs only totals $39 million.[iii] The health and economic burdens of tobacco-use could be significantly reduced if these programs were fully funded.

Annual health care costs directly caused by smoking in New York State are $10.39 billion. This expense results in a tax burden of $1488 dollars for each New York State household every year.4 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.3

What more can be done?

Action needs to be taken to:

  • Decrease youth exposure to tobacco marketing, including electronic cigarettes;

  • Increase tobacco-free outdoor environments;

  • Eliminate smoking in multi-unit dwellings;

  • Ensure that all patients are screened and treated for tobacco use and dependency; and

  • Improve access to cessation services especially among those disproportionately impacted by tobacco use.

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, and For more information specific to Cortland and Tompkins, visit

[i] NYS Dept. of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control StatShot Vol. 10, No. 1/Mar 2017, accessed 1/2/18,

[ii] Journal of Tobacco Control, Feb. 6, 2017, accessed 1/2/18,

[iii] Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Key State-specific Tobacco-Related Data & Rankings, FY18, accessed 1/2/18,


1 view0 comments
bottom of page