Dozens of city students traveled to Albany last week to speak to state lawmakers on the harmful effects tobacco-use has on their communities. On Feb. 4, organizers from anti-tobacco group NYC Smoke Free traveled with students to the capital on Legislative Education Day, to show their support for more comprehensive tobacco control programs. The young advocates spoke honestly on how cigarette-smoking affects their lives, and how certain substances disproportionately affect their neighborhoods, said one of the organizers.
“The students are very educated on how communities of color and lower income communities are harmed by tobacco, and they spoke about menthol because it takes the cake,” said Edric Robinson, a student engagement manager with the organization.
He said there waa an excessively large use of menthol cigarette use in city areas that were predominantly comprised of people of color.
“We use menthol more than any other group, and our community is struggling and more needs to be done to help because a lot of students are also falling victim to menthol cigarettes,” said Robinson.
The students were able to convey to lawmakers how easy it is to access cigarettes where they live, and how the abundance of corner stores selling single cigarettes make it easy for teens to purchase.
He said that many also got a chance to express how smoking affected their peers, families and communities, and detailed research they have conducted.
“Some of the things they touched on was how some have families and relatives suffering from addiction, and what they’re trying to do to empower their peers,” said Robinson.
As an organizer working with the teens and educating them, Robinson said he was proud at the passionate pleas of his students.
“It’s rewarding because they were able to not only regurgitate what they’ve heard, but they were also speaking from their own experiences,” said Robinson.
Another growing problem is the popularity of vaping through the use of electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs. Robinson said the latest phenomenon was very common with teenagers and was even more harmful than tobacco. He also said that health agencies such as the Center for Disease Control, warn against vaping because it carries long-term negative health effects.
“Unlike tobacco, electronic cigarettes are not regulated, and from what we know nicotine is already addicting and these electronic cigarettes contain more nicotine than cigarettes,” said Robinson. “When people puff on them throughout the day, they are unaware of how much they are ingesting.”
“For teens, nicotine use can especially impact their development and brain development, and other areas we don’t know,” he said.
Robinson said the next step was organizing district meetings and trips to the nation’s capital to meet with partners.