2016, if nothing else, was a year of advocates making themselves  heard on important issues.

These sort of actions within a free society got us thinking about our Reality Check youth advocates. And how our Tobacco-Free Western New York team channels their energy into  telling Big Tobacco what they demand.

It’s a compelling story.

Smoking in not ok.

Advocates congregated in front of Toronto’s City Hall to display their message.

In April, 2016, 80+ Reality Check youth demonstrated against smoking in movies outside MTV Studios in Toronto. To push the film industry to rate movies that show smoking R, they focused on three youth-rated films that were up for MTV Movie Awards: Creed, The Big Short and Ant-Man.

Their efforts – chants, cardboard heads of movie characters and powerful placards – flooded the area.


We’ve seen enough!

In May, 40 passionate Reality Check advocates travelled to the center of Tobacco Country to make their voices heard, by demonstrating at the Altria Group shareholders meeting.


The teenagers rallied and chanted outside of the convention center, carrying black balloons and powerful signs. Some wore skeleton masks.

Advocates wore skeleton masks to speak out on the number of deaths caused by tobacco use.

Inside the shareholder’s meeting, the youth voice was also strong and clear.

Amber Updike of Watkin’s Glen, N.Y. asked Martin J. Barrington, Altria’s chairman, president and CEO, why the tobacco industry spends more than $9 billion a year on marketing and puts products in convenience stores “where kids are likely to see it.”

“We do not market our products to young people. We market them to adult tobacco consumers,” Barrington responded. “We take all kinds of steps, and we have for many, many years, to try to make sure we are putting forth our best efforts on that.”

Our Reality Check advocates – from Alden and Allegany to Batavia and Niagara Falls – have seen enough.

  • Enough tobacco marketing in their faces,
  • Enough lies from Big Tobacco,
  • Enough cigarattes lit up on the Big Screen,
  • Enough statistics about the numbers of New Yorkers who die each day because of tobacco use.

They’ve raised their voices in Albany, Toronto and Richmond in 2016. 2017 promises more action with greater focus.

The best part of these students growing into advocates is that their voices are now heard in their communities every day. The voices that encourage their peers to stay tobacco free. The voices that stand against the tobacco industry’s deceptive marketing. And the voices that urge elected leaders to take action.