As our Smoke Free NYC Coordinator stood before a room full of Washington Heights Teens at the Smoke Free Youth Summit, he began the evening’s session with a question: “raise your hand if you know someone who life has been affected by smoking.” Not a single person left a hand unraised. The floor was then opened to anyone who wanted to share their story. One brave boy told the story of his uncle whose life was taken due to smoking.
It is clear that we all know someone whose life has been changed due to smoking, whether it be a serious health problem or a more fatal and unfortunate result. The question now becomes: what can we do to help? The YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood (the Y), in association with the Manhattan Smoke Free partnership, is doing all it can to make Manhattan a smoke-free city. By hosting events like the Smoke Free Youth Summit and visiting local schools, the Y is working hard to not only educate Manhattan’s youth about the dangers of smoking, but to empower them to take further action and become passionate leaders in the community
“As we teach the students about the dangers of smoking, we noticed the children became very engaged” says Andrea Schnee, Family Literacy Program Director at the Y. Andrea, and our Smoke-Free Coordinator Patrick Norberto have spent much of the past few months hosting educational presentations at community organizations and schools. “One student thought smoking referred to a fire; she had never heard of cigarettes! She came back the following week and shared that she had talked to her parents and found out that her brother was a smoker. Another student shared her thoughts about how bad she thought it was that the tobacco companies were intentionally hurting people. Our program is really making an impact on these children’s lives.”
These youth-focused anti-smoking programs are just more pieces in a long line of smoke-free initiatives tailored for youth by the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood. “We successfully partnered with local retailers who voluntarily removed or rearranged the tobacco displays in their stores away from the sightlines of children and teens” said Martin Englisher, Executive Vice President of the Y. “The Y works closely with local youth and applauds smoke-free policies that de-normalize smoking, protects our youth from sneaky tobacco marketing, and protect us from secondhand smoke.”
As the Y continues to fight the battle of creating a smoke-free Manhattan, a new enemy has arisen in the form in e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are still not yet regulated and are sold widely, even though recent studies suggest e-cigarettes release vapor that may cause health problems. And while the tobacco industry claims that it markets only to adults, e-cigarettes are currently sold in kid-friendly fruit and candy flavors and smoked by popular movie stars and celebrities whom teen follow closely. It is believed that e-cigarettes can serve as a gateway to traditional cigarettes, and our youth must be protected. Allowing e-cigarette smoking in workplaces and public places will only add to the re-glamorization of smoking that the tobacco industry is trying to achieve in their marketing.
The Y will continue to do all it can to educate our local youth of the dangers of smoking, and giving them the tools to help promote a smoke-free lifestyle among their families and friends. In line with our goal to promote a healthy lifestyle for all of our community members, the Y is committed to supporting the efforts of making New York City a smoke-free environment.