Syracuse Teens Attend Youth Summit at SUNY Adirondack; Fight Against Menthol-Flavored Tobacco Products That Attract and Addict New Smokers

1 in 5 New York State High School-Age Youth Use Tobacco Products According to New York State Department of Health[i]

Local Reality Check youth advocates joined over one-hundred teens this month from around the state at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, New York a four-day youth summit to educate, empower, and equip them to fight back against the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry in their home communities.  The teens, Armani Coffee, Brianna Burton, Bryson Reed, and Blake Kazaka are part of Reality Check, a NYS Department of Health-funded program. They will employ what they learned to raise awareness about Big Tobacco’s long history of aggressive marketing and promotion of menthol-flavored tobacco products to young people, people of color, LGBTQIA+ communities and other groups, and its deadly impact on them.

This was the first Reality Check Youth Summit experience for all four youth attendees. Gillette Road Middle School student Blake Kazaka described his youth summit experience as “fun, educational, and inspiring.” Tobacco-Free CNY Reality Check Coordinator, Antonio Palmer explained, “This was a great opportunity for youth to learn and ultimately grow as tobacco control advocates and leaders in their respective communities. Aside from unifying youth from across New York State, Youth Summit serves as an impetus for youth to continue taking action against the tobacco industry and their marketing tactics.”

This year’s Youth Summit culminated in a large display of youth activism at Aviation Mall in Queensbury, NY. Youth participated in palm card pitching, tabling, interviewing their fellow peers, and created a captivating mural representing youth empowerment within tobacco control. The tobacco industry’s own documents say that, “today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer.”[ii] Reality Check youth are telling their communities across the state that they refuse to be a target for Big Tobacco or be recruited by them. Reality Check’s message is clear: Menthol is not just a flavor. It’s a way for Big Tobacco to attract and addict us. There’s nothing just about that.

During the summit, the teens were often seen wearing “It’s Not Just,” T-shirts, representing Tobacco Free NYS’s current statewide campaign to raise awareness of the harmful effects of menthol-flavored tobacco products. The “It’s Not Just” dual meanings are: 1) menthol is not JUST a flavor, but also a way for tobacco companies to attract and addict new smokers, and 2) the communities targeted by the tobacco industry experience unfair and unjust health burdens resulting from tobacco use. When it comes to making a difference in the community, Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central student Brianna Burton shared, “Not everyone is going to want to hear what you have to say, what matters most is that the information is readily available for those who want it”.

Social media posts about youth summit can be found using #RCSummit23, #NotJustMenthol and #SeenEnoughTobacco.

Reality Check of New York State is funded by the New York State Department of Health Bureau of Tobacco Control’s, Tobacco Control Program of New York State (TCP). TCP 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.

[i] Youth Tobacco Use Continues to Decline Across All Product Types in 2022, One in Five Youth Still Use Tobacco. StatShot Vol. 15, No1/May 2023. NYS DOH Bureau of Tobacco Control. Accessed July 2023.

[ii] “Tobacco Company Quotes on Marketing to Kids.” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2021. Accessed June 2023.