CATSKILL — Two local teens are fighting to make a change in their community with stricter tobacco laws.
Emma Brown and Lauren Liberti, eighth-grade students at Catskill Middle School, presented the dangers of vaping to the Greene County Legislature on Wednesday.
“We saw a lot of kids at school vaping and damaging their health,” Brown said. “We knew the risks and we wanted them to know.”
The girls have presented at and distributed brochures during Catskill’s health classes, they said. They plan to address the school board March 20.
The students have experienced peer pressure to vape and witnessed increased suspensions due to vaping, Liberti said.
“One in every four teenagers reported that they vaped in 2018,” Brown said.
The duo started their campaign for Family, Career and Community Leader’s of America’s Students Taking Action with Recognition program. As part of their project, Brown and Liberti plan to attend the state conference in Callicoon, in Sullivan County, from March 27-29.AN EVOLVING CIGARETTE
Between 2017 and 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students rose by 78 percent, American Lung Association National spokeswoman Payel Gupta said in January. More than 1 million children started using e-cigarettes in the past year.
Devices used to vape can be discrete, Liberti said, holding up a JUUL e-cigarette.
“It looks like a flash drive,” she said.
Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, asked how minors are getting tobacco products.
“Older siblings or high school students sell them,” Brown replied.
“Do parents know they’re doing this?” Legislator William Lawrence R-Cairo asked.
Parents are often unaware, Brown said.
“People are using them in the bathroom,” she added. “They are mint or cherry-flavored. They’re obviously marketing to youth.”RAISING THE AGE TO LIGHT UP
In the state, a person smokes his or her first cigarette at an average of 13 years old, according to a 2017 state Department of Health Youth Tobacco survey.
The Catskill teens voiced support for stricter legislation to protect youth, such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to raise the age for tobacco products from 18 to 21, which passed the state Assembly on Wednesday.
New York City and 16 counties in the state already raised the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21.
In Columbia and Greene counties, 61 percent of residents are in favor of raising the age to 21, according to a 2018 by Siena Research Community Survey.
Raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 will prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer, Gupta said in January.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, supported the legislation.
“My vote on raising the tobacco age to 21 speaks for itself,” Tague said in a statement Thursday. “We need to be encouraging good decision-making in our young folks. Setting the age at 21 will help to pull tobacco products out of high schools and limit the spread through social circles in that age group.
“I’m always in favor of creating a healthy and productive environment for our students and young people and this is no different.”
Sen. George Amedore, R-46, also supports the legislation.
“Addiction is one of the biggest issues we face in society today,” Ameodore said in a statement Thursday. “With the negative health effects caused by tobacco products, it is common sense that we make every effort possible to discourage tobacco use — which leads to addiction — among our next generation of young people.”
Lisa Heintz and Madeline Ping, of Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia & Greene Counties supported the students’ presentation.
“There has also been legislation to end the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies,” Heintz said, adding that Albany, Rockland and Erie counties and the five boroughs have similar laws in place.
In Columbia and Greene counties, 65 percent of residents favor regulation to prohibit tobacco sales in pharmacies, according to a 2018 Siena Research Community survey.TOBACCO NEAR SCHOOLS
Brown and Liberti also support the village of Tannersville’s law restricting the sale of tobacco products within 1,000 feet of the Hunter-Tannersville Central School District, which it adopted in 2017.
Heintz feels the Windham-Ashland-Jewett, Cairo-Durham and Greenville school districts would benefit most from a law similar to Tannersville’s because they all have gas stations near them, she said in October.
Lawrence questioned how Tannersville’s law could effectively solve the problem.
“The problem with the 1,000-foot radius is that students are selling it in the schools,” he said.
Heintz replied that education in the schools is the best way to combat the issue.
“What is the penalty for the sales in the schools?” asked Ed Bloomer, R-Athens.
“The law doesn’t cover that,” Heintz replied. “That would be up to law enforcement.”
A 2018 community survey conducted by Siena Research found 64 percent of Twin County residents favor prohibiting tobacco sales near schools.
Legislator Matthew Luvera, R-Catskill, requested copies of relevant laws for county lawmakers to review.
In addition to Tannersville, Sullivan and Ulster counties, the city of Newburgh, town of Niskayuana and village of Dodgeville each have legislation prohibiting tobacco sales near schools.
Hunter-Tannersville School District Superintendent Susan Vickers feels the law could even be more extensive, she said Thursday.
“I wish the law was more encompassing and included JUULs and stores within a mile of the school,” she said. “The law should be elastic to include new technology.”
JUULs can be difficult for faculty to detect, Vickers said.
“You can’t smell it because it might smell like bubble gum,” she said. “And you can’t see the smoke because it’s vapor. It’s a huge problem.”
The law has worked well for the district, Vickers said.
“It’s working because of the logistics of the town,” she added. “There aren’t really any stores or businesses within 1,000 feet of the school.”
Vickers sees vaping as a problem with middle- and high-school students, she said, as many have a job and disposable income.
Luvera supports the legislature exploring a countywide version of Tannersville’s law.
“I feel this is important legislation,” he said Thursday. “The law seems sensible that businesses shouldn’t be selling or marketing these products near schools. Our kids are exposed to enough on social media without having it blasted to them in retail stores as something they should be using.”
Luvera, who is a fourth-grade teacher for Catskill, said he was proud to see Brown and Liberti take a stand.
“The girls recognized a problem and wanted to finds ways to prevent teens from using these products,” he said. “I’m very proud of them and looking forward to continuing the conversation about the proposed legislation.”STATE ACTION
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease nationwide, killing more than 480,000 Americans every year, American Lung Association State Public Policy National Assistant Vice President Michael Seilback said in Jaunary. Seilback added federal, state and local governments need to take more aggressive action to combat tobacco usage.
In the American Lung Association’s 2019 Tobacco Control Report, the state received an “A” rating for having smoke-free air, a “B” for implementing taxes on tobacco products and a failing “F” grade for not providing enough funding for tobacco-prevention programs, Seilback said.
“Unfortunately, in New York, we’re not doing enough,” he added.
The state’s Tobacco Control Program is funded at $39 million — a sharp contrast to more than $200 million the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state spends on tobacco control, Seilback said. The state receives $2 billion from taxes on tobacco products and master settlement agreements, which could be used to help fund the program, he added.
“New York has an obligation to use more of that money to help smokers quit,” Seilback said. “The prescription to fight the epidemic use of e-cigarettes is for New York state to devote more resources and more money to win this fight.”