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Youth worked to clean cigarette litter. (Images courtesy of Cicatelli Associates Inc.)
Youth worked to clean cigarette litter. (Images courtesy of Cicatelli Associates Inc.)

Reality Check teens celebrate Earth Day with tobacco litter cleanup


Fri, Apr 29th 2022 12:55 pm

Submitted by Cicatelli Associates Inc.

As an Earth Day project this year, Reality Check youth from Cataract Elementary School, LaSalle Prep and Gaskill Prep cleaned up over 375 cigarette butts and other pieces of tobacco litter around Packard Court Community Center on April 26. 

Not only is tobacco use the No. 1 preventable cause of death, but cigarette butts are the most common form of litter.

Although Packard Court Community Center is a tobacco-free site, cigarette butts can still be found scattered around. One youth, J’Shawna, was shocked at the amount of cigarette butts that they collected and asked if we could do cleanups at other parks in Niagara Falls: “My friends and I like going to Hyde Park in the summer and would like to do a butt clean up there. Other youth shouldn’t see this much litter when hanging out at parks.”

The adult smoking rate in Niagara County is 21.6%, significantly higher than the average statewide smoking rate of 12.8%. Cigarette smoking among NYS high-school youth is at an all-time low of 2.4%. However, 22.5% of NYS high-school youth use e-cigarettes, a dangerously high number. 

“We have an upcoming generation of young adults addicted to nicotine, and another generation now in middle and high school starting to use these products,” said Amanda Hucksoll, Reality Check program manager. “Unfortunately, these teens are on their way to becoming victims of the tobacco industry.”

Tobacco Product Litter Threatens the Environment

Cigarette butts make up more than one-third of all collected litter worldwide. They do not disintegrate, and leach toxic chemicals into the environment, leading to land, water and air pollution. E-cigarette waste is potentially a more serious environmental threat than cigarette butts, since e-cigarettes introduce plastic, nicotine salts, heavy metals, lead, mercury and flammable lithium-ion batteries into waterways, soil and wildlife. 

Secondhand smoke from tobacco and e-cigarette products contribute considerably to air pollution. Additionally, combustible cigarette secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 carcinogenic and toxic chemicals. Furthermore, exhaled smoke from e-cigarettes, or “aerosol,” contains carcinogens, formaldehyde, benzene and volatile organic compounds. According to the surgeon general, there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure.

Vaping Jeopardizes Youth Health

For youth and young adults, nicotine addiction can cause irritability, anxiety/depression, problems concentrating, and trouble sleeping. And, since the brain continues to develop until about the age of 25, nicotine can disrupt brain development. 

“The impact of nicotine addiction can so easily lead to increased mental health issues, further substance abuse, and ultimately produce a decline of overall youth-health,” said Krista Douvlos, manager of youth and community engagement to prevent tobacco use.

Reality Check empowers youth locally and across New York state to become leaders by exposing what they see as the manipulative and deceptive marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry’s marketing and promotion has long appealed to adolescents and young adults. Reality Check youth engage their peers and communities to take action and raise awareness about the benefits and the need for smoke-free and tobacco-free spaces. Additionally, youth work toward developing a tobacco-free norm, where secondhand smoke and tobacco litter are not part of the landscape of their community.

Reality Check is supported by Tobacco-Free Erie & Niagara, a project administered by CAI that aims to advance tobacco-free communities in Erie and Niagara counties through education, community mobilization, and policy change in order to reduce the burden of tobacco use and prevent future initiation.

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