By ELIZABETH LYONS
The Seaway Valley Prevention Council has received a five-year grant for $325,000 annually to expand its efforts to prevent youth tobacco use.
The grant through the state Health Department’s Advancing Tobacco-Free Communities initiative will allow the Prevention Council to expand its Reality Check program into Jefferson and Lewis counties. The council’s program currently only operates in St. Lawrence County and educates youth about the tobacco industry’s marketing strategies toward teens and the health risks associated with smoking.
The Reality Check program in Jefferson and Lewis counties is currently coordinated by Mountain View Prevention Services, Lowville, which also applied for the grant but did not receive it.
“As of June 30, Reality Check in Jefferson and Lewis through Mountain View Prevention Services will cease to exist,” Mountain View Reality Check Coordinator David H. Grier said Tuesday. “Seaway Valley Prevention will have all three counties.”
Seaway Valley Prevention Council Reality Check Coordinator Ashley A. Frank said she hopes the Jeff-Lewis Reality Check transition to her agency will be a smooth one.
“We are going to work closely with Mountain View Prevention to figure out the ins and outs of what they’ve done and what they’ve tried so we can hopefully be able to just slide in,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
The program has been around for about a decade. Both coordinators said it has had an impact on getting children and teens to resist tobacco marketing so there are fewer new smokers.
“If you speak to the youth we work with, they will tell you there is a big difference when kids talk to them at school or they’re seeing kids out in public,” she said. “It is absolutely making a difference.”
Mr. Grier said participants in his program are passionate about educating their peers on the dangers of smoking.
“It’s really been beneficial here,” he said.
The funding will pay for Reality Check events such as free movie nights at theaters to encourage youth to lobby against tobacco use in films, transportation to state and national rallies against the tobacco industry marketing products to youth and community educational materials.
The Seaway Valley Prevention Council program has also partnered with the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department on lobbying initiatives that include discouraging pharmacies to sell tobacco products and encouraging landlords to prohibit tobacco use in apartment buildings. Ms. Frank said a portion of the grant will allow the council to dedicate staff all under one roof to Reality Check instead of having employees spread out among various agencies.
“A lot of the money will go into our education so we can get the word out about what we’re doing,” Ms. Frank said. “We also have events like youth summits for our kids and trainings so even though our youth are out educating the community, we are also educating them.”