Reality Check

Poster submissions for the 2020 WNY Reality Check Great American Smokeout Art Contest.

REALITY CHECK (RC), the youth action component of New York State’s Bureau of Tobacco Control and youth partners of the Tobacco-Free CCA Coalition. For over 20 years, youth from all over New York have worked hard to educate their communities on how the tobacco industry and tobacco use negatively affects their communities.

  • REALITY CHECK is a teen led, adult supported program working across New York State.
  • REALITY CHECK aims to expose the manipulative and deceptive marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry actively exploits and markets a deadly and addictive product that is enticing to youth.
  • REALITY CHECK strives to produce change in our communities through grassroots education, mobilization, political education and media campaigns.
  • REALITY CHECK stands for being more than a replacement for the 1,200 customers Big Tobacco loses daily in the United States alone.
  • REALITY CHECK wants big tobacco to know that “WE’VE SEEN ENOUGH.”

Why Youth?

  • 88% of current smokers started by the age of 18 years old.
  • 4,300 New York State youth become new daily smokers each year.
  • 4.25% of Allegany County high school students smoke cigarettes and 26.1% vaped in the past 30 days. Both of these rates are higher than the New York state average.


Tobacco in Stores

There are many factors that contribute to the decision of an adolescent to begin smoking; tobacco marketing in retail stores where tobacco products are sold(the point of sale) has a significant impact.

Surgeon General’s Report “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults”

  • The tobacco industry has stated that its marketing only promotes brand choices among adult smokers. Regardless of intent, this marketing encourages underage youth to smoke. Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers start smoking by age 18, and more than 80% of underage smokers choose brands from among the top three most heavily advertised. The more young people are exposed to tobacco advertising, the more likely they are to smoke.
  • Flavored tobacco products on the market appeal to youth. More than half of youth (ages 12-17) who smoke use menthol cigarettes. E-cigarettes/Vapes, cigarillos, cigars, and smokeless tobacco products comes in fruit and candy flavors, which masks tobacco’s harshness.
  • Young people find new smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette/vape products appealing in part because they can be used without detection at school or other places where smoking is banned. However, these products cause and sustain nicotine addiction, and most youth who use them also smoke cigarettes.
  • Through the use of advertising, packaging, and product design, the tobacco industry encourages the myth that smoking makes people thin. This message is especially appealing to young girls. It is not true—teen smokers are not thinner than nonsmokers.
Power Wall.Alfred

Reality Check focuses on different kinds of policy change limiting youth’s exposure to tobacco marketing.

Licensing and Zoninglimits the number of tobacco retailers in a community and where they can be established.

Menthol and Flavors – majority of young people who start using a tobacco product use a mentholated or other flavored product.

Smoke-Free Spaces

It has been known since the 1980’s that secondhand smoke causes cancer and there is no safe level of exposure. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that comprehensive smoke-free policies have been successful in protecting nonsmokers, and are the only way to fully protect their health. Currently, over 500 municipalities in New York state have made outdoor recreation areas tobacco free.

Benefits to a Smoke-Free Policy:

  • Protecting people from the harmful and damaging effects of secondhand smoke.
  • Reducing tobacco/vape product litter. Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world, with vape litter catching up.
  • Protecting the environment from harmful chemicals that leach out of discarded cigarette butts and vapes that may be picked up by young people, eaten by wildlife, or make its way into our waterways.
  • Modeling healthy activities and de-normalizing the use of tobacco products for young people, who use outdoor spaces.

Smoke-Free Movies

Big Tobacco has known the power of the media for decades and has a long history with the entertainment industry. The tobacco industry uses tobacco imagery and brand identification on screen to both normalize and glamorize tobacco use.

The tobacco industry has a history of using young people’s favorite actors and actresses light up on both television and movie screens or pay for their products to be placed in movies.

A perfect example of this is in Superman II, where General Zod throws Superman through a Marlboro delivery truck. The irony is that there is no such thing in real life as a Marlboro delivery truck and industry documents show that the Philip Morris Company producer of Marlboro cigarettes paid over $40,000 for their product to be placed into the movie and Lois Lane to be a chain smoker, which she never did in the comics.

Research shows that the more smoking youth see on screen, the more likely they are to start smoking.

Unfortunately, Big Tobacco does not need to pay actors or actresses to smoke or vape or pay for their products to be in movies or tv shows, because now there is social media. Teens consume more media than ever, watching an average of almost 11 hours of media in any given day. The media youth consume is often completely unregulated, giving the tobacco industry direct access to teens’ daily lives.

With anonymous posting as easy as pushing a button on our phones, the tobacco industry can easily claim innocence while recruiting new replacement smokers for the 1200 Americans they lose daily to tobacco related illnesses.

The Surgeon General’s Report states that giving an R rating to future movies with smoking would be expected to reduce the the number of teen smokers by nearly 1 in 5, preventing up to 1 million deaths from smoking among children alive today.

Reality Check aims to expose the tobacco industry and de-normalize and de-glamorize tobacco use on screen.

Contact for Reality Check in Allegany County


Jonathan Chaffee

Reality Check Coordinator for Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany Counties

(716) 548 – 0555

Facebook: Reality-Check Jon, Tobacco-Free CCA

Instagram: realitycheckjon

Twitter: @TobaccoFreeCCA

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