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 partner’s of the Tobacco-Free CCA Coalition. For the more than a decade, youth from all over New York have worked hard to educate their peers, parents, legislators, community members and key decision makers on the tobacco industry’s manipulative marketing practices and how they target youth to become replacement smokers. Tobacco use is a pediatric epidemic in the United States.

The teens of RC have worked on numerous initiatives over the years. RC was instrumental in getting tobacco ads out of certain magazines that are sent to schools and read by youth. We are working with national leaders and other states to get smoking out of youth rated films. Currently, we are also working to eliminate the influence the industry has in retail stores. Reality Check has also had great success in working with parks and other outdoor spaces, getting them to adopt policies to become smoke-free. Over the years Reality Check has been the lead voice at countless press events, meetings with legislators, town hall meetings, city council meetings, school board meetings and numerous parent group meetings. Reality Check has attended and participated in national conferences, held rallies all over the state and neighboring states, and some have even had the unique opportunity to travel abroad.

  • 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.
  • 13,500 New York State youth become new daily smokers each year.
  • 22.5% of Allegany County high school students smoke, compared to 11.9% New York State high school average.


Point of Sale

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 cigarette advertising and promotional activities, the more likely they are to smoke.
  • The report finds that extensive use of price-reducing promotions has led to higher rates of tobacco use among young people than would have occurred in the absence of these promotions.
  • Many tobacco products on the market appeal to youth. Some cigarette-sized cigars contain candy and fruit flavoring, such as strawberry and grape.
  • Many of the newest smokeless tobacco products do not require users to spit, and others dissolve like mints; these products include snus—a spitless, dry snuff packaged in a small teabag-like sachet—and dissolvable strips and lozenges.
  • Young people find these 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 and promotional activities, packaging, and product design, the tobacco industry encourages the myth that smoking makes you 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.

Price Promotion – set a minimum price for tobacco products, by not allowing the redemption of tobacco product coupons or “buy one, get one”(bogo) offers.

Show Your Support!


Smoke-Free Media

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.

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

The tobacco industry uses the media to target youth by having their favorite actors and actresses light up on both television and movie screens. Research shows that the more smoking youth see on screen, the more likely they are to start smoking.

As teens spend more and more time on the web, Big Tobacco spends more and more cash on internet marketing. There are currently no state or federal laws regulating how the tobacco industry markets on the web. This gives the industry free range to target youth in new stealthy ways through buzz/viral marketing.

With anonymous posting as easy as the click of a mouse, the tobacco industry can easily claim innocence while recruiting new replacement smokers for the 1200 Americans they lose daily to tobacco related illnesses.

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

To learn more about Reality Check’s work with smoke-free media, check out our Smoke Free Media(SFM) Guide developed in 2012 by Reality Check Coordinators and Cicatelli Associates.

SFM Guide – downloadable PDF

Youth Media Consumption

  • In 2010, youth viewed an average of almost 11 hours of media content in a single day.
  • The amount of media teens consume has increased steadily since 2004.
  • 11-14 year olds have higher levels of media consumption than older teens.


  • Smoking in movies recruits 187,000 new teen smokers every year. 60,000 of them will die prematurely due to tobacco related illnesses.
  • The Surgeon General concluded that there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and smoking initiation among young people.
  • According to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, there were nearly 1,900 portrayals of smoking and other tobacco usage among the 134 highest grossing films at the box office in 2011.
  • Among youth rated films (G, PG, PG-13), there was a 36 percent increase in “tobacco incidents in 2011.
  • PG-13 films account for nearly two-thirds of the smoking scenes adolescents see on the big screen.
  • The worst movie studio offenders were those studios that had smoke free movie policies in place and had agreed to self-regulate.


  • The tobacco industry spent over 130 times as much on internet advertising in 2008 as they did in 1998.
  • A 2010 study found that British American Tobacco employees were taking advantage of social networking sites to create fan pages accessible by youth.
  • In 2004, 34.1% of middle school students and 39.2% of high school students reported seeing ads for tobacco products on the internet.
  • Between 2000 and 2004, exposure to pro tobacco messages declined in every channel studied except for the internet.



Jonathan Chaffee

Asst. -Coordinator Youth Outreach(Reality Check)

(716) 548 – 0555

Facebook: Reality-Check Jon, Tobacco-Free CCA

Instagram: Reality-Check Jon

Twitter: @TobaccoFreeCCA, @Tobacco_Lies

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