Montgomery County

Teens rally against smoking in Amsterdam

Forty-five middle- and high-school students wearing matching green tie-dyed shirts inscribed with th

Forty-five middle- and high-school students wearing matching green tie-dyed shirts inscribed with the number 70 set up 70 pairs of shoes in the Amsterdam Riverfront Center Wednesday morning, representing the 70 New Yorkers who die daily from tobacco-related illnesses.

Local media and 15 to 20 onlookers watched as Justin Hladik, Reality Check coordinator for Fulton and Hamilton counties, and a few students shared facts on smoking-related deaths and youth smoking.

The kids came from the Students Against Destructive Decisions program at Canajoharie Middle School and the Reality Check group at Johnstown High School, youth organizations designed to reduce youth smoking rates and publicize the negative effects of secondhand smoke.

The event targeted the tobacco industry’s marketing, saying it is directed at young people by advertising in locations they frequent, such as prominent displays in gas stations and product placement in movies.

“The tobacco industry tries to hook kids young so they can make money off of them their whole lives,” Hladik said. “You wouldn’t believe how often kids’ movies portray tobacco use in a positive way.”

According to three Johnstown High School students, youth smoking is a big deal.

“There are so many kids in our high school that smoke,” said 16-year-old Kayla Groesbeck. “They all hang out at this one street corner.”

That corner is known as “cancer corner,” said 18-year-old Karrie Benton.

“You see their tobacco products, their chew and stuff in the sinks at school,” Kody Arminio, 16, said. “They even smoke in front of their babies, just hurting them from the start. We want to end that.”

Hladik has tried to counter the tobacco marketing by starting a more grass-roots movement against smoking, motivating kids in Reality Check to talk to their friends about tobacco use.

“The tobacco companies have the money,” Hladik said, “but we have the kids.”

The idea for the empty shoes comes from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where thousands of empty shoes are displayed in memory of those who died in the gas chambers, said Rebecca Guarino, coordinator of Project ACTION and one of the organizers of Wednesday’s rally.

“We decided to keep it local, with New York smokers,” Hladik said, “because 1,200 people die of tobacco-related illnesses every day in the United States and there is no way we could get that many shoes.”

The shoes were donated by people in the community and will be re-donated to Hamilton County Community Action.

Smokers in New York do have options. The state smoker quitline, 1-866-NY-QUITS, and offer free help to those looking to quit smoking.

Categories: Schenectady County

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