Fulton County teens take part in statewide youth summit

Matthew Terleckey, left, and Ethan Morrone, right, are shown in this photo. (Photo submitted)

JOHNSTOWN — Fulton County teens, Matthew Terleckey and Ethan Morrone, local leaders in exposing what they see as the manipulative and deceptive marketing tactics of the tobacco industry, have just returned from the annual Reality Check Youth Summit at Cazenovia College.

During leadership workshops and teambuilding exercises with 150 other youth from around the state, they made plans for raising awareness in their own communities about the impact tobacco marketing has on youth.

“The average age of a new smoker in New York State is just 13 and it seems like tobacco companies would do anything to grab kids’ attention,” said Terleckey, a Perth resident and three year member of Reality Check. “They use colorful signs, walls of tobacco products, special discounts and displays. And the more kids see tobacco products, the more likely they are to start smoking. We’re here to say we’ve seen enough tobacco.”

“I think tobacco companies try to deceive kids with packaging that looks a lot like candy and juice boxes and with flavors like grape and bubble gum,” said Morrone, a Johnstown resident and a four year member of Reality Check. “Stores located near schools have nearly three times the amount of tobacco promotions. Tobacco companies put most of their marketing in stores where 75 percent of teens shop at least once a week. We’re speaking out in communities all across the state to protect youth from tobacco marketing and the dangers of tobacco use.”

Youth demonstrate how bright colors, displays appeal to kids.

At Lakeland Park in Cazenovia, the youth rallied against the tobacco companies deceptive marketing tactics to draw kids to tobacco products, using large displays of what would normally be considered kid-friendly items. Community members were shocked to see what the youth were demonstrating, including large cutouts of:

∫ A child’s birthday cake with cigarettes for candles and a banner reading “The average age of a new smoker is 13.”

∫ A crayon box with cigarettes instead of crayons that reflect startling statistics about tobacco marketing and youth smoking.

∫ A claw machine filled with packs of cigarettes instead of stuffed animals and toys.

∫ An ice cream truck promoting tobacco product sales rather than ice cream sales.

∫ Open packs of cigarettes on the blades of a working 8 feet tall by 5 foot wide mini-golf windmill.

At each demonstration, Reality Check youth explained how the kid-friendly exhibits grab the attention of passersby just as the tobacco industry grabs youth’s attention with tobacco marketing in stores.

“A number of New York communities have taken action to protect youth from tobacco marketing but we still have a lot more work to do locally to protect future generations from the death and disease of tobacco use — and Reality Check youth have the power to do it,” Sarah Kraemer, Reality Check Coordinator, Advancing Tobacco-Free Communities of Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery Counties. “The New York State adult smoking rate is just 14.2 percent while our local counties are much higher —Fulton County is 19.1 percent and Montgomery County is 26.8 percent. These high rates equate to a burden on the health and economic wellbeing of our communities.

The teens marched to the rally along Albany Street from the Cazenovia College Campus, the site of the group’s three-day youth summit held this week.

This is the third year the college has hosted the Reality Check summit, an educational event focused on helping youth hone their public speaking and leadership skills in addition to giving them the tools to fight against the tobacco industry’s influence in their communities. They attended workshops, carried out tobacco-free-themed activities, were inspired by national youth speakers to achieve their tobacco-free generation goals, planned the #SeenEnoughTobacco rally and worked with local media.

By Kerry Minor

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