Western New York Reality Check Names Student Art Contest Winners to Celebrate Great American Smokeout 2020

In coordination with this year’s Great American Smokeout (GASO), more than 30 students responded to honor the national event, observed today, November 19, this year. The Reality Check art contest focused on the dangers of tobacco use. Artists were encouraged to depict why they want their communities to establish a tobacco-free policy.

Students could submit art as a poster, comic, photo, video, or poem. The winning artwork was selected by Reality Check youth coordinators based upon creativity, use of messaging and originality.

Warsaw High School youth artist Payton was named the first-place winner of the poster contest. Her art depicted a person in the foreground being snuffed out with a giant cigarette with the headline: “Put It Out Before It Puts You Out.” The strong messaging and the lifelike image of the hand struck the jury. Second prize was awarded to Jerzie, a student at Falconer High School, who portrayed a tombstone of her great grandmother with the headline, “I Never Knew You Because Of Cigarettes.” Southwestern Middle School youth artist Meredith poster had the message of “Don’t You Recognize Me Anymore” which shows a smoking skeleton with black lungs.

Selena, of Fillmore Central was awarded first place in the poem category for a piece titled,

“Smoke Out.”

All forms of tobacco are bad.

Sometimes they can make you sad.

What’s the point of ruining your life.

You don’t want to kill the wildlife.

Cigarette butts pollute the earth.

And they affect birth.

Ask for help.

Before you ruin what’s in your scalp.

Kyra, of the Olean High School was awarded first place for video category by depicting nicotine addiction and health issues through dinosaurs.

“Talented students from across the region responded to our art contest, which made judging a challenge,” said Jonathan Chaffee, Reality Check Coordinator of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany. “I hope the efforts of our students will inspire others to think about the health impacts of tobacco use, refrain from littering cigarette butts and vape pods, and protect our community members, as well as spaces where we all live, work and play, for generations to come.”

The American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout is an annual event that encourages and offers support to smokers to who plan to quit smoking or to quit smoking on the day of the event – Thursday, November 19. By quitting – even for one day – smokers will be taking an important step toward a healthier life and reducing their cancer risk.

With COVID-19 concerns, there has never been a better time to quit. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the lungs. In addition to causing lung cancer, smoking also makes chronic lung disease worse and increases the risk of severe illness from infections like pneumonia and the flu. Adults who smoke have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, as well.

Reality Check is a teen-led, adult-run program that seeks to prevent and decrease tobacco use among young people throughout New York State.

For more information about Reality Check, visit


Thursday, November 19th, marks the 45th Great American Smokeout, a day set aside for smokers and other tobacco users to abstain for at least one day, in hopes that people will quit completely.  The idea began in 1971 when Arthur Mullaney, a Massachusetts resident, asked people to quit smoking for a day and donate the money they would have spent on tobacco to a local school.  Shortly after Monticello Times editor Lynn Smith led Minnesota’s first “D-Day” (Don’t Smoke Day), the American Cancer Society’s California chapter encouraged nearly one million smokers to quit for the day on November 18, 1976.  Due to the success in California, the ACS took the event nationwide in 1977, maintaining the third Thursday in November as the target date.

So why in 2020, during a pandemic, do we continue to focus on issues like smoking and vaping?  The Great American Smokeout (GASO) draws attention to preventing the deaths and chronic illnesses caused by smoking and vaping. It also still serves as a motivator for individuals to quit smoking (even for a day). An important side benefit of this day is that it has also served to help motivate individuals, organizations, State and Federal governments to begin to explore and enact legislation and policies on tobacco product advertising, marketing to children and tobacco-free environments. 

Many states have now enacted strong tobacco control laws that have helped drive positive change. Cigarette smoking has declined over the past fifty years, from 42% in 1965 to 13.7% in 2019, but the declines have not benefitted our population equally. Some groups smoke more heavily or at higher rates and suffer more from smoking-related diseases.  These populations tend to be those who experience inequities in multiple areas of their lives, including those at lower socioeconomic levels, those without college degrees, American Indians/Alaska Natives, African American/Black communities, LGBTQ communities, those in the military, those with behavioral health conditions, and others.  Some of these inequities can be found right in Allegany County by looking at smoking and vaping rates of high school seniors. In New York State, 4.8% of high school students smoke cigarettes compared to 10.8% of high school students in Allegany County. Vaping rates are even more alarming: in New York State, 36.7% of high school seniors vaped, in Allegany County 38.5% of high school seniors vaped. The Allegany County percentages come from the Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Inc.’s Risk and Protective Survey that is completed every two years by sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades throughout the county. When discussing adults, Allegany County ranks as one of the highest counties in New York as having high averages of death caused by lung cancer and heart disease, to which smoking is a large contributor.

32.4 million American adults still smoke cigarettes, and smoking is still the largest preventable cause of death and illness in our country and around the world. More than 480,000 deaths in the US are caused by smoking every year.   This is 20% of all deaths – every year.  To add to that misery, more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease. 

Research shows that smokers are most successful in “kicking the habit” when they have some means of support, such as nicotine replacement products, counseling, prescription medicines to lessen cravings, guide books, and the encouragement of friends and family members.

“Chew on This: The Need to Engage Your Mouth and Hands After Quitting,” article by the Quitter’s Circle Staff on 3/10/15 cites that a common theme among ex-smokers and those trying to quit, can be fidgety hands and the need to chew gum, toothpicks, or other foods.  Some quitters miss the sensation of a cigarette in their hands or between their teeth.  Testimonials often reveal that smokers become used to having a cigarette in their mouths.  The habit of picking up a cigarette and placing it between one’s lips becomes a routine of comfort.  In addition, the habit of moving one’s hand from cigarette to mouth is repeated so often that quitters and those attempting to quit feel the need to do something with their hands.  This article is one of many that contains this kind of information.  

In light of this, it would stand to reason that e-cigarettes are not an effective cessation tool for most people, as the hand-to-mouth habit of using an e-cigarette reinforces the behavior that potential quitters are aiming to break.  The use of an e-cigarette, which replicates the experience of smoking, may be a drawback to quitting.  Harvey B. Simon, MD, editor of “Harvard Health,” stated in an article dated 9/22/11 that, “By simulating the cigarette experience, e-cigarettes may reactivate the habit in ex-smokers.”

Communities, landlords, and employers can also help smokers become successes in quitting. Communities can make public places tobacco free, such as parks. This can have three desired effects: one, it encourages current smokers to quit; two, it models appropriate behavior to young people so they never start using tobacco products; three, it protects our environment from tobacco litter. Studies have shown that one cigarette butt can litter 500 liters of water, which exceeds 132 gallons. Landlords can make their apartment buildings smoke free, which encourages smokers to quit and protects residents from secondhand and thirdhand smoke, which is dangerous to humans and animals. The last policy change can be implemented by employers to make their workplace and even their vehicles tobacco free, which encourages tobacco users to quit. It is estimated that smoking causes over seven billion dollars in productivity losses each year in New York State alone. All three of these policies have been proven to be an effective way to encourage current tobacco users to quit and discourage young people from starting. 

More information on these policies can be found at, or through Tobacco Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany by emailing Community Engagement Coordinator Ken Dahlgren at

According to the ACS, 1 in 5 deaths in the United States is smoking related, and 87% of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking.  Lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death, is also the most preventable.  If you would like to “kick the habit”, but you are not sure what steps to take, call the Allegany Council at 585-593-1920, x 713, for tips on how to quit and stay quit.  Assistance is also available for users of smokeless tobacco.

Don’t allow yourself to become a replacement smoker or a statistic…join millions of Americans today on a journey to a healthier you!


The Hidden Addiction Among Veterans and Active Duty Members

November, particularly the 11th, is dedicated to commemorating the men and women who have served in the U.S. Military.  As a country, we strive to honor and protect these individuals after returning to civilian life.  While there are many mental health and addiction resources available throughout the nation, one issue usually remains hidden.  Problem gambling, or any time gambling causes financial, vocational, mental, or interpersonal problems in one’s life, is an issue that affects roughly two million Americans.  However, Veterans have elevated rates of problem gambling—at least twice the rate as the general adult population (Westermeyer et al., 2013). Additionally, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates that as many as 56,000 active duty members of the Armed Forces meet the criteria for Gambling Disorder.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5, a diagnosis of gambling disorder requires at least four of the following during the past year:

  1. Need to gamble with increasing amount of money to achieve the desired excitement
  2. Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling
  3. Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling
  4. Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, thinking of ways to get money to gamble)
  5. Often gambling when feeling distressed
  6. After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (referred to as “chasing” one’s losses)
  7. Lying to conceal gambling activity
  8. Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job or educational/career opportunity because of gambling
  9. Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling

Compared to the national population, problem gambling may not seem like a priority.  However, problem gambling can impact up to 55% of the population.  It is estimated that each individual struggling with problem gambling can impact up to 10 additional people. On top of that, problem gambling has the highest suicide rate among all addictions.  “About 50% of those with disordered gambling have had suicidal thoughts. Over 17% of these individuals have attempted suicide,” (Moghaddam et al., 2015).  Problem gambling is also extremely underreported and low screening rates, especially in the military, remain a barrier.  Some initial screening tools that are available include the “Lie Bet” and the “Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen” which provide basic questions on gambling habits.

What can we do to better assist veterans and active duty members who might have a gambling problem?

  • Increase Screenings for Problem Gambling during routine visits and follow up
  • Complete screenings after deployment and before reenlisting
  • Offer education and information about gambling related harms
  • Provide a safe space to discuss need for support
  • Recommend alternatives to gambling on base and at program sites

If you or a loved one is struggling with problem gambling, contact the Western Problem Gambling Resource Center at (716) 833-4274 or email us directly at

Allegany County Participates in National Take Back Day

Bolivar and Cuba, NY – October 24, was the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Like so many communities across the country, Allegany County had two locations at the Bolivar and Cuba Fire Departments where community members could drop off unwanted or expired medications.

Allegany County Sheriff Rick Whitney and Bolivar Police Chief Steve McPherson in front of medications brought in by a community member at the Bolivar Pill Drop.

The pill drop events have been taking place in Allegany County since 2008. This has been a partnership between the Allegany County Sheriff’s Office, the Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Inc. (ACASA), and Partners for Prevention in Allegany County (PPAC). “These events are an outlet for community members to get rid of old or unused medications in a safe manner,” said Coalition Coordinator Jon Chaffee. “The pill drops are important to make sure that medications do not end up in our waterways or on our streets” said Chaffee.

This year, 41 cars participated, for a total of over 179 pounds of medications brought in by community members. These medications will end up being incinerated to make them inert. “Utilizing the DEA’s Take Back Day allows us to reach out to offer a needed resource to our communities and help educate about proper disposal of medications,” said Undersheriff Kevin Monroe.

Allegany County has ten Take It To The Box locations throughout the county at:

  • Alfred Pharmacy
  • Alfred State University Police
  • Allegany County Sheriff’s Office in Belmont
  • Cuba Police Department
  • Fillmore Pharmacy
  • Friendship Pharmacy
  • Jones Memorial Hospital in Wellsville
  • Jones Memorial Medical Practice in Bolivar
  • Nicholson Pharmacy
  • Wellsville Police Department.

“Pill drop boxes throughout the county are an asset and are being used quite often,” said Monroe. Community members were also educated about the opportunity to dispose to sharps at all Allegany County transfer stations free of charge.

The coalition would like to also thank Chief McPherson of the Bolivar Police Department and Chief Burch and Officer Tyler Phillippi of the Cuba Police Department for partnering with them on making the Take Back Day a successful one. For more information on Take Back Day, Take It To The Box locations, or sharps disposal, please visit and look under “Community” for more information.

Allegany Council Kicks Off October with the Bob Weigand Memorial Move-A-Thon

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month.  On Saturday, October 3rd, the Prevention Department of the Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Inc., held the 22nd annual Bob Weigand Memorial Move-a-Thon at the Angelica Village Office.  Twenty-one people and three dogs participated in this year’s Red Ribbon event, which is held every first Saturday in October in memory of Drug Enforcement Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who was tortured and killed by drug traffickers in 1985.  The purpose of the Move-a-Thon is to promote a drug-free lifestyle through healthy alternatives, and to remind people to wear red ribbons in support of a drug-free America during Red Ribbon Week, October 23rd-31st.  This year’s theme is: “Be Happy.  Be Brave.  Be Drug Free.”

Bob Weigand had been born and raised in Horseheads, New York, and moved to Wellsville in 1978.  He had been a reporter for several newspapers in Elmira, Binghamton, Hornell, Syracuse, and Buffalo, and founded WJQZ Radio in 1986, where he served as station manager and news director.  In 1992, he was instrumental in establishing WZKZ Radio, where he remained as news director until retiring in 2006.  Bob was an active member in his church, in the Wellsville Lions Club, and Wellsville Volunteer Ambulance Corps. for over twenty years.  He served on the Allegany Council’s Board of Directors and was a staunch supporter of the recovery community.  When Bob lost his battle with cancer, the Council renamed the 5K after him for his all-around dedication to the community.  It is the silhouette of Bob and his dog, Kristen, that can be found on the Move-a-Thon T-shirt, as he faithfully attended the event with her, even after his cancer diagnosis.

This October, think about what you can do to promote a substance-free America.  One person can and does make a difference! 

Remember Prevention Works!          

Communication Frustration during COVID-19

What makes working in Allegany County so charming is that face to face discussions is still the best way to communicate and educate community members in Allegany County. Unfortunately, during COVID-19 many of our community events have been cancelled or, due to agency policy during this time, employees have not been able to be out and have a physical presence at farmer’s markets and other local activities. COVID-19 has also affected Partners for Prevention in Allegany County(PPAC) just like other agencies. Fortunately, the coalition has had a digital presence through their website and social media, which includes Facebook: PPAC Central, Instagram: ppac_central , and Twitter: @PPACcentral. On PPAC’s social media, you can find information on initiatives, events, activities, and contests.

The coalition is also adding a podcast, which is titled “585 Prevention”. Most of the podcasts will have a prevention theme, but flexibility exists to highlight any topic the coalition members would like to discuss and promote. The purpose of the podcast if to give community members the opportunity to learn about different prevention initiatives and local resources at their leisure. 585 Prevention will be distributed to many popular podcast apps, such as Spotify and Pocket Casts.

The hope is that through all these different means of communication, residents of Allegany County are still getting the messaging and information from local agencies. The biggest message is that “We are still here and working to make our community a better place to grow, live, work and play.”

More information about the coalition can be found at , please follow us on any of the social media platforms that you use to see what is going on with the coalition and in your community.

Remember Prevention Works!

31st National Recovery Month

This September marks the 31st National Recovery Month, an observance held every September to educate Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life. 

Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery, just as society celebrates health improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.  A major difference, however, is that the successes of the millions of Americans whose lives have been transformed through recovery often go unnoticed by the general population.  The observance reinforces the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover. 

Each year, Recovery Month selects a new focus and theme to spread the message and share the successes of treatment and recovery.  This year’s theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections,” is meant to remind people in recovery and those who support them that all people have victories, as well as things we wish we had done differently.  Regardless of who we are, we all experience peaks and valleys in every area of life, and resilience is made possible through the strength, support, and hope from those we love, including our communities. 

Previously, Recovery Month was sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  In June, SAMHSA announced its decision to retire its annual convening of Recovery Month stakeholders, the development of future themes and assets, and the management of the events calendar.  More information on Recovery Month can be found here.  NAADAC (National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors) is currently “carrying the torch” for Recovery Month.

On September 29, the National Council for Behavioral Health will be hosting a virtual “Recovery Month Luncheon” from 3:30-5 p.m.  Visit the Recovery Month website for further details. 

Local counseling is available at the Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Inc., at 585-593-6738.  Together, we can stop the stigma surrounding mental and substance use disorders, and help more people find the path to hope, health, and overall wellness! 

New York Council on Problem Gambling Releases Campaign to Thank New York for Supporting Problem Gambling Services

NYCPGALBANY, New York – August 1stmarked the passing of one year that accessible, effective and efficient services to treat individuals and families struggling with a gambling problem have been open statewide!

To mark this historic anniversary the New York Council on Problem Gambling (NYCPG) and its 7 New York State Problem Gambling Resource Centers (PGRC) will be sharing the successes of this new system during the month of August.  With a video montage and informative collateral, the Council will be widely sharing the gratitude of staff, clinicians and clients for these essential services.

Problem Gambling services were expanded greatly over the past few years with funds and support from The New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (NYS OASAS).  “This new approach to providing statewide services has shown us not only the tremendous need that exists for the services, but that with Care and Concern, No Barriers to Care and a motto of Here to Help we’ve been able to create healthy, lasting change for NY families that just wasn’t accessible to this extent in prior years.” said Michelle Hadden, Assistant Executive Director, Program.

With these critical funds, over the past two years the Council in conjunction with OASAS has been able to:

  • train, vet and refer clients to 160 NYS Licensed Mental Health Professionals with specialized training in problem gambling
  • service 750 individuals and families in need of support for a gambling related problem
  • move 650 families towards wellness and recovery
  • provide services in multiple languages, telemedicine options, and evening family education and support sessions
  • coordinate with the legal system to reduce recidivism through treatment of the underlying problem
  • raise awareness in communities and organizations at the local and state level
  • support gaming facilities in providing self-excluded individuals with information on problem gambling and available local resources

The new video and additional materials share more about the positive outcomes of services like these that can’t always be measured in numbers.  We welcome additional feedback from any individuals, families and partners who’ve benefited from the services and relationships we have to offer.  The gratitude video and success materials can be found at  For further information on the PGRC system and help in your area visit

Sale of flavored e-cigarettes statewide and all tobacco sales at pharmacies end TODAY in New York State

CandyThe sale of flavored e-cigarettes ends in New York State on May 18, as does the sale of all tobacco products in pharmacies. These are huge steps forward in helping New Yorkers live free from nicotine addiction.

The new laws were passed as part of the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget. New York becomes the second state in the nation to restrict the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.

“There are two things we definitely know about vaping. One: flavors are a major cause for youth to vape, and two: youth who vape are more likely to switch to smoking traditional cigarettes as they get older. In 2018, we saw the first increase in youth smoking rates since 2000. The only major thing that has changed in the tobacco product market place is the popularity of vape products, where they are sold, and how they are marketed,” said Jonathan Chaffee, Reality Check Coordinator of Tobacco Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany.

Research shows that the flavors in e-cigarettes attract kids and the nicotine addicts them.[i] Nearly 40% of high school seniors in New York State use e-cigarettes, also referred to as “vaping,” and 27% of all high school youth vape.[ii]   This new law ending the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New York State will protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

Selling tobacco products in pharmacies has long sent a contradictory message to consumers by offering tobacco alongside medicine or products for illnesses either caused by or made worse by smoking. That ends now in New York State. It also reduces the number of stores that sell tobacco products in every community, an effective way of supporting tobacco users who want to quit and reducing youth exposure to tobacco marketing. “What has been great in Allegany County, is that all independent personally owned pharmacies have not sold tobacco products for years” states Chaffee. There is overwhelming evidence that the more young people see tobacco, the more likely they are to start smoking.[iii]

“We know that preventing the use of any substance, including nicotine, is a major priority and saves countless numbers of lives and future health care costs to society,” said Ann Weaver, Community Educator at Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Inc.  “Speaking as someone who has assisted people with cessation, I can testify to the fact that adults trying to quit found it frustrating to see tobacco products near nicotine replacement, as the sight of tobacco products often acts as a powerful trigger and produces cravings.”

Support available for New Yorkers who want to quit

For help quitting smoking or vaping, including free nicotine replacement therapy for eligible residents, individuals can contact a health care provider, call the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS or visit Effective medications and counseling are covered by Medicaid and most insurance programs. Allegany County residents can also contact the Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Inc. for free cessation services at (585) 593-1920.

Tobacco Free New York State and Reality Check student groups around the state have worked tirelessly to educate local communities about the need to protect children from the billions of dollars of tobacco marketing in places where kids can see it. The statewide “Seen Enough Tobacco” initiative is focused on putting an end to youth smoking and other tobacco use. The average age of a new smoker in New York is 13 years old,[iv] and 90% of adult smokers say they first tried smoking by age 18.[v] Tobacco Free New York State, including the Reality Check student youth groups, is part of the NYS Tobacco Control Program.

Reality Check empowers youth to become leaders in their communities in exposing what they see as the manipulative and deceptive marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. The organization’s members produce change in their communities through grassroots mobilization and education. Reality Check in this area is affiliated with Tobacco-Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties (TF-CCA), a program managed by Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

About the NYS Tobacco Control Program

The NYS Tobacco Control Program includes a network of statewide grantees who work on Advancing Tobacco-Free Communities, which includes Community Engagement and Reality Check, the Health Systems for a Tobacco-Free New York, the NYS Smokers’ Quitline and Surveillance and Research. Their efforts are leading the way toward a tobacco-free society. For more information, visit, and NYSmokeFree.Com.


[i] Flavored Tobacco Products Attract Kids: Brief Overview of Key Issues, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Dec. 2019,
[ii] NYS Dept. of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control, StatShot Vol. 12, No. 4/Oct 2019, Trends in Electronic Cigarette Use Among High School Youth NYS-YTS 2014-2018:
[iii] A Report of the Surgeon General: Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults “Executive Summary” 2012, p. 1, 3:
[iv] Information about Tobacco Use, Smoking and Secondhand Smoke,
[v] A Report of the Surgeon General “The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress” 2014, p. 12, 696, 708:

Vaping Reversing Years of Success Against Youth Nicotine Exposure

For years state tobacco control and prevention programs have been successful lowering youth exposure to nicotine, by lowering the youth smoking rates; unfortunately, vaping is reversing all that hard work. In New York State between 2000 and 2018 the high school youth smoking rate decreased 82%.i From 2016 to 2018 the high school smoking rate increased from 4.3% to 4.8% the first increase in New York State since 2000.i In contrast, use of e-cigarettes among high school youth continues to rise. Between 2014 and 2018, the rate increased fully 160%, 10.5% to 27.4%.i E-cigarettes remain the most commonly used tobacco product among youth surpassing cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and hookah. The same can be said locally as vaping among high school seniors is 38.5% and smoking is 10.8% for high school seniors, which is an increase from 9.7% in 2017.i

This year the response to help reverse youth exposure to nicotine comes in two different forms. First, during Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Prevention Week 8 Allegany County teen leaders from Reality Check and Belfast Central School join more than 300 other youth from around New York State, as well as Nebraska, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Delaware, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Idaho to take on Altria Group executives and shareholders for the fifth consecutive year. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco and tobacco products.


In place of live action outside the Shareholder’s Meeting in Richmond, VA, as the youth have done in prior years, they’ve taken their action online, using social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok to raise their voices during Mobilize Against Tobacco Lies Week of Engagement. Their goal: To engage others, from members of their community to concerned citizens across the world, by drawing attention to the many years of tobacco industry lies and revealing the truth. Everyone is encouraged to friend, like, comment, and share posts.

Seven days of action, seven deadly lies

Going virtual wasn’t the only change event organizers made for 2020. As they pivoted their mindsets from travel arrangements and logistics of a live event to technology and inclusivity of a virtual one, they also extended the once three-day event to seven days.

From Monday, May 11 through Sunday, May 17, youth champions will focus their actions on seven deadly lies the industry has been telling the public for years, countered by facts and truths.



The Seven Deadly Lies are:

  • Nicotine is not addictive;
  • Tobacco marketing is aimed at adults;
  • Using tobacco makes you cool;
  • The tobacco industry is socially responsible;
  • Tobacco products are not harmful;
  • Flavors are not meant for kids; and
  • Menthol isn’t a flavor.


The teens, representing Reality Check from across New York State are mobilizing against the lies told by big tobacco companies, and are telling elected officials and people in their communities: Big Tobacco won’t stop marketing their deadly products, so we can’t stop the fight to share the facts about deadly tobacco products.

Some youth will take their fight right to the top – the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Billy Gifford of Altria Group. Yasmine Arabaty from Olean’s Reality Check was appointed by a shareholder to represent them and address corporate tobacco executives and ask a question on May 14 during the virtual shareholders’ meeting.  Yasmine asked about the difference between heating elements in the new heat not burn product IQOS and regular cigarettes. Yasmine was joined by 6 other youth who were able to ask the CEO a question.

“Philip Morris USA claims it doesn’t market to kids and doesn’t want them to start smoking,” said Jon Chaffee, coordinator of the Reality Check program of Tobacco Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany. “If that’s the case, then why is the tobacco industry spending $9.6 billion per year to market their products[i] where kids are likely to see them?”

Studies show that kids who shop in stores with tobacco marketing, such as gas stations and convenience stores two or more times a week are 64% more likely to start smoking than their friends who don’t shop where tobacco is marketed.[ii]

“Despite what they say, Philip Morris USA spends billions marketing their deadly products right in front of us,” said Yasmine Arabaty, Olean Central  School freshman and Reality Check champion. “And this is only one of the lies they tell. Enough is enough, already!”

Here are more facts:

– According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, if current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million Americans younger than 18 who are alive today are projected to die prematurely from smoking-related disease.

– The average age of new smoker in New York State is 13 years old.[iii]

In preparation for the virtual demonstration on Thursday, May 14, Reality Check youth will spend the days leading up to the meeting, plus three days after, learning about tobacco control policies, how the tobacco industry contracts with retailers to get their products and messages in front of youth audiences, and how they can stand up, speak out and make a difference in the fight against Big Tobacco.

Virtual speakers and trainers include Dr. Phillip Gardiner, a public health activist, administrator, evaluator and researcher with the University of California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, as well as leaders of Dover Youth 2 Youth of Dover, NH and Counter Tools of Chapel Hill, NC.

Secondly, New York State protects youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction by passing laws that ends the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New York State on May 18, as does the sale of all tobacco products in pharmacies. These are huge steps forward for New Yorkers health and wellbeing. Research shows that the flavors in e-cigarettes attract kids and the nicotine addicts them.iii Nearly 40% of high school seniors in New York State use e-cigarettes, also referred to as “vaping,” and 27% of all high school youth vape.iv Ending the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies reduces the number of stores that sell tobacco products in every community, an effective way of supporting tobacco users who want to quit and reducing youth exposure to tobacco marketing. Hopefully, these measures will help to get youth exposure to nicotine back on the right track and decreasing.

New York State does have a resource for young people who are trying to quit, which can be found by texting “DropTheVape” to 88709.  The community can also contact the Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Inc. (ACASA) at 585-593-1920 for local help quitting all tobacco products.

All young people who currently use any tobacco product is encouraged to quit, and youth who don’t currently use a tobacco product are encouraged to not start.

Remember Prevention Works!

i New York State Youth Tobacco Survey 2000-2018. Contact the Bureau of Chronic Disease Evaluation and Research, New York State Department of Health at (518) 473-0673 or send an e-mail to StatShots can be accessed online at:

ii Allegany County’s Risk and Protective Survey 2017-2019. Evalumetrics Inc. Feb. 2019,

iii  Flavored Tobacco Products Attract Kids: Brief Overview of Key Issues, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Dec. 2019,

iV NYS Dept. of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control, StatShot Vol. 12, No. 4/Oct 2019, Trends in Electronic Cigarette Use Among High School Youth NYS-YTS 2014-2018: