Schenectady County

Hundreds of teens speak against glamorizing smoking

More than 300 teenagers descended upon the Capital Region on Thursday to encourage movie executives

More than 300 teenagers descended upon the Capital Region on Thursday to encourage movie executives and magazines to get a “reality check” and stop glamorizing smoking.

Students from the tobacco prevention organization Reality Check held a press conference at Union College’s College Park Hall residence on Thursday morning to speak out against Hollywood blockbuster films that show smoking, the proliferation of smoking advertisements in magazines and fairs and festivals that accept sponsorships from tobacco companies.

Following the half-hour news conference, the students — who came from all over New York to take part — got on seven coach buses to spread the message in Schenectady, Scotia, Albany and Saratoga Springs through skits and short presentations. Among the locations were Collins Park in Scotia, downtown Schenectady and the Empire State Plaza in Albany.

Hemavattie Ramtahal, a 16-year-old student attending Schenectady High School, said she was prompted to get involved in this cause to change the culture at the school.

“The teachers are smoking. The kids are smoking,” she said.

The district passed a new tobacco policy last year to educate students about the effects of tobacco use.

The youths would like the movie rating system to give an “R” rating to any film that shows or implies tobacco use and stop identifying tobacco brands in the background of any movie scenes.

“The tobacco industry is a hard-hitting opponent, and when you add Hollywood to that equation, you can see we have our work cut out for us,” said Glen Miles, a 17-year-old from Onondaga County.

Joey Bernier, 18, of Chateaugay, Franklin County, said tobacco advertising is very prevalent in the marketplace.

“We are bombarded by point-of-purchase advertising in our local stores,” he said.

The tobacco industry spent about $182 million on so-called “point-of-purchase” advertising in 2005. This includes window signs, displays, banners and other items. A 2004 study concluded that students exposed to point-of-purchase tobacco marketing had a 50 percent greater chance of ever smoking, according to literature from New York State Tobacco Control Partners.

The students also had a mock storefront display to demonstrate that children can see the signs that are displayed lower than 4 feet in height.

Patience Pechette, Reality Check coordinator for Rensselaer County, said Thursday’s efforts were part of a three-day summit to educate the community about the marketing practices of the tobacco industry.

“You go to a convenience store to buy chips and all these other things, but what you see the most is 15 signs advertising Marlboro and Camel,” she said. “It’s no coincidence.”

Bernier added that students should tell their schools to get special editions of popular magazines like People, Time and Newsweek that do not have tobacco advertisements.

Reality Check members also said that smoking-related illnesses contribute to more than $8 billion in health care costs in this country annually.

At various locations, Reality Check members also did face painting and showed signs. They are also tried to get people to sign petitions stating that they do not want to see smoking in PG or PG-13-rated movies.

Claire Pospisil, spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said Reality Check is one component of the New York State Tobacco Control youth program and receives $5.8 million in funding annually. There are 46 chapters covering all 62 counties. New York has had the program since 2000.

Theresa Zubretsky, project coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco Free Coalition — not affiliated with Reality Check — said the organization is working to reduce, rearrange or eliminate advertising in retail outlets where tobacco products are sold.

“The tobacco industry spends more than $13 billion on retail advertising and promotion understanding that teens are more likely to be influenced by advertising,” she said.

The coalition has put up billboards around the state as part of a campaign called “You think kids don’t notice: Think again.”

In addition, it successfully lobbied the Albany County and Schenectady County legislatures to pass resolutions requesting that retailers in communities reduce or eliminate tobacco advertising.

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