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July 28, 2015

Local teens combat smoking in movies

smokeBob Ellis/staff photographer
Charlene Kolts, 15, takes a selfie with Katherine Couture, 16, as part of a statewide movement to raise awareness of the harmful aspects of smoking tobacco.

By AMY GERNON
Staff Reporter
agernon@cortlandstandard.net

Local anti-tobacco youth leaders, including Cortland High School juniors Charlene Kolts and Katherine Couture, are part of a statewide movement aimed at forcing the movie industry to make all movies that feature smoking and tobacco products R-rated.
“R-rated films don’t make as much money as youth-rated films,” Kolts said, explaining that it would be more profitable for the movie industry to eliminate smoking entirely from films.
“There are a lot of youths in general who think smoking is cool,” said Kolts, who added that she has at least two friends who began smoking because they saw celebrities doing it in popular films.
Couture said two of her older sisters are smokers, despite the fact their grandmother died of smoking-related lung cancer.
Kolts, 16, and Couture, 15, joined the movement led by Reality Check — an organization that focuses on exposing the exploitative marketing of the tobacco industry to curtail youth smoking — this year because they say it is important to educate people about the dangers of smoking.
Images of smoking and tobacco products in films are a leading cause of youth smoking, according to Melissa Potter, a health educator and Reality Check coordinator for the county department of health.
Catherine Feuerherm, public health director for the Cortland County Health Department, said smoking is a learned behavior that can be influenced by media images including social media.
“When it’s part of everyday life, it leads to early initiation,” Feuerherm said, adding that the high rates of adult smoking in the area contribute to the high rates of youth smoking. Smoking rates in Cortland County are higher than the state average, according to a recent assessment by Seven Valleys Health Coalition. In Cortland, 21.2 percent of adults are smokers, compared to 16.2 percent statewide.
According to the annual Cortland Area Communities That Care Pride Survey, some teens in the county reported that they began smoking as young as age 13, Potter said, adding that combating smoking means educating youths.
“People listen to youth,” Potter said, adding that the efforts of the local youth leaders are essential to the success of the campaign, which is aimed at reducing the number of misleading images of smoking.
In July, five Reality Check youth leaders from Cortland met with more than 170 of their peers at Colgate University in Hamilton for the organization’s Summit 2K15 event. The two-day summit, held July 14-16, featured workshops focused on training youth leaders to communicate with their peers about the hazards of smoking.
One of the highlights was an attempt to set a state record for a selfie-chain, or a series of “selfie” photographstaken on cell phones and posted on various social media sites. Youth leaders posed in pairs holding signs featuring the group’s slogan, which they posted on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
Kolts said she received a lot of positive feedback from her posts and five people re-posted her selfie, which is considered a measure of success by social media standards.
The Cortland County Department of Health is beginning the second year of its five-year, $325,000 state-issued grant, which funds anti-tobacco outreach in Cortland, Tompkins and Chenango counties.
“This is a step in the rightdirection,” said Jennifer Hamilton, community engagement coordinator for Cortland’s Tobacco Free Zone. She said educating teens is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking rates.
The funds go toward a variety of initiatives aimed at exposing the deceptive marketing practices used by the tobacco industry to entice youths to smoke. The initiatives also aim to establish tobacco-free communities and reduce secondhand smoke exposure through smoke-free housing policies, as well as reduce the tobacco industry presence on social media, Potter said.
“We can’t stop them from smoking,” Kolts said. “But if we give them information, hopefully they will inch towards understanding.”

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