Niskayuna High School junior Ella Sciocchetti believes tobacco companies need a “reality check.”
The 16-year-old said there are a lot of smoking messages in films popular with youths. “In a movie, even a flash of a brand, they’re trying to send you a message to start smoking,” she said.
A study she did of middle-schoolers found that 71 percent of students surveyed recognized cigarette brands and only 50 percent recognized alcohol brands. She presented the results of her study to the Iroquois Middle School PTO and the Niskayuna Community Action Program.
For her efforts, Sciocchetti was selected as one of four regional recipients of the Youth Advocate of the Year Award from the youth anti-smoking advocacy organization Reality Check.
Sciocchetti had to fill out an application and write a few essays, in which she talked about her leadership qualities, her advocacy work and her problem-solving skills.
Sciocchetti has been involved with Reality Check since eighth grade. “It gets me involved with the community and other teens,” she said.
The group does a variety of advocacy events in the Capital Region, including lobbying legislators in Albany. She made a poster for Tobacco Free Kids titled “Airing Out Big Tobacco’s Dirty Laundry.”
“We’re not against smokers; it’s just the advertising done by tobacco companies,” she said.
Tobacco companies spend hundreds of millions every year on advertising, according to Sciocchetti. She said they are targeting youths because they need replacement smokers. Many New Yorkers die every day because of tobacco-related illnesses.
She said she is not sure of her long-term career plans. She likes working with children and perhaps would like to be a coordinator of events.
Laura Waterhouse, Reality Check coordinator for the Capital Region, said this is the second year the organization has given out the awards. Sciocchetti went above and beyond with her anti-smoking advocacy, Waterhouse said.
In addition to Sciocchetti’s submitting five essays, Waterhouse gave her a letter of recommendation. An evaluation committee including one of last year’s award recipient and a representative from the state Department of Health Tobacco Control Program made the final selection of award recipients.
As the Reality Check coordinator for this area, Waterhouse said she has enjoyed watching Sciocchetti grow from a shy young girl to a confident young woman who is not afraid to pick up the phone or go talk to a legislator. “It’s gratifying to see her truly being empowered,” she said.
The funding for Reality Check has been cut in recent years, Waterhouse said. In 2008, her office’s budget was about $85,000, and now it is $40,000. They have had to reduce staff, but she hopes that the program will continue.
Waterhouse said she is pleased that young people are dedicated to this issue.
“They’re really willing to take their own time to do something in the community that will make a lasting difference,” she said.