Groups detail anti-smoking efforts to county supervisors

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County supervisors this week heard a presentation on area anti-smoking efforts and may be expressing formal support for such efforts next month.

Presenting at Monday’s board meeting at the County Office Building were: Project Action Program Coordinator Sue Arminio; and Sarah Kraemer and Shauna Sitts, co-coordinators of Johnstown-based Reality Check.

Arminio said Project Action, established in 1994, is a partnership or coalition of people and organizations from Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery counties. Its mission is to systematically reduce tobacco use in the counties.

“When the kids go into the convenience store, what do they see?” Arminio said. “They see tobacco marketing.”

Arminio said tobacco marketing in stores is a primary cause of youth smoking. In New York state, 80 percent of tobacco retailers devote most of the merchandising space behind the checkout counter to tobacco product displays, she said. This gives youth the impression that tobacco products are easily accessible and tobacco use is acceptable, she said.

She cited statistics showing youth smoking is still a big problem. According to the U.S. surgeon general, tobacco use is a pediatric epidemic in the United States, with 3.6 million youth currently smoking cigarettes, she said.

Reality Check, a youth-led movement within the state Department of Health, Tobacco Control Program, is trying to expose what it sees as manipulative and deceptive marketing practices of the tobacco industry.

Kraemer told the board 90 percent of smokers will smoke their first cigarette by the age of 18. In New York state, more than 132,000 high school students smoke, and every year an additional 22,500 kids younger than 18 become new daily smokers. Kraemer said the tobacco industry has a $3 billion marketing campaign, some of it aimed toward young people.

“These displays create a false impression for our youth,” she said.

Sitts said Project Action and Reality Check want to educate young people and make them more aware of the dangers of smoking. The ultimate goal would be to end tobacco marketing in stores, she said.

Following the presentation, Arminio said she has since received word from county officials of a possible county “statement in support” of the groups’ efforts, which will be presented to the next Human Services Committee, with possible action May 12 by the full board.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.