Area Teens Attend Summit at Keuka College

Focus on combating tobacco industry’s influence on youth

Tobacco-Free CNY Reality Check youth from the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central (ITC) Ali Kareem and Michelle Tran joined more than 70 teens at Keuka College for this year’s Reality Check Youth Summit held each summer to gain leadership, self-empowerment, and team-building skills to produce change in their communities. Reality Check works to expose the tobacco industry’s deceptive and manipulative marketing tactics that appeal to youth and lead to nicotine addiction.

ITC students Michelle Tran and Ali Kareem with Reality Check Coordinator, Antonio Palmer (center)

“Youth Summit was a wonderful experience for all who participated,” said Tobacco-Free CNY Reality Check Coordinator, Antonio Palmer. “The highlight for me was watching the youth in action during our activism fair. Witnessing youth from all across the state unite to create powerful messaging rejecting Big Tobacco’s marketing practices was truly a sight to behold.”

When New York State ended the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in May 2020, it was a significant step toward reducing youth tobacco use. However, e-cigarette use remains the most used tobacco product among New York State youth (22.5%). More than half of teens falsely believe e-cigarettes are harmless.

Youth will apply skills learned to raise awareness of the tobacco industry’s impact on young people. During the summit’s Activism Training Fair, youth experienced a variety of hands-on, highly visual, and engaging activities to mobilize and educate communities about Big Tobacco’s impact on young people. Ali Kareem and Michelle Tran joined their fellow Central region youth in the Chalk the Walk activity. The objective was for youth to utilize their imagination and chalk to create messages or images illuminating the tobacco industry’s negative impact on their respective community.

They shared startling information about tobacco industry marketing and its effect on youth smoking initiation, including:

  • The average age of a new smoker is 13 years old, and 90 percent of adult smokers say they first tried smoking by age 18.
  • In 2019, cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies spent $8.2 billion on advertising and promotions in the U.S. alone.
  • To catch the attention of youth, tobacco companies use colorful packaging that sometimes imitates the packaging of popular candy brands. Plus, tobacco product advertisements in stores are often at children’s eye level (less than three feet off the ground), and tobacco products are placed near candy, toys, and other youth-friendly items.
  • Menthol cigarettes, in particular, lead to increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults, greater addiction, and decreased success in quitting smoking.
  • Youth who initiate using menthol cigarettes are more likely to become addicted and become long-term daily smokers.

Reality Check and Tobacco-Free CNY are funded by the New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control, New York State Tobacco Control Program (NYSTCP). The NYSTCP aims to reduce illness, disability, and death related to tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure, and to alleviate the social and economic burdens caused by tobacco use.



NYS Dept. of Health, Tobacco Control Program, StatShots 2021-Vol. 14, Numbers 1-4. Milestones in Tobacco Control: Youth Tobacco Use Declines Across All Product Types in 2020, Lowest Youth Smoking Rate on Record, StatShot Vo. 14, No.3/Sept 2021. Accessed July 2022,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health. BRFSS Prevalence & Trends Data CDC, 2020. Accessed July 2022,

NYS Department of Health, Tobacco Control Program, Information about Tobacco Use, Smoking and Secondhand Smoke, Tobacco Use in NYS, 2017. Accessed July 2022,

A Report of the Surgeon General “The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress” 2014, p. 12. Accessed July 2022,

CDC, Smoking and Tobacco Use, Tobacco Marketing. Accessed July 2022.

Counter Tobacco, Youth Targeting at the Point of Sale, Product Placement and Advertising. Accessed July 2022.

“Impact of Menthol Cigarettes on Youth Smoking Initiation and Health Disparities.” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2021. Accessed July 2022,

“Impact of Menthol Cigarettes on Youth Smoking Initiation and Health Disparities.” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2021.