Burke Catholic students speak out against tobacco industry
19 students represent Orange County, meet with legislators at New York State Capitol


John S. Burke Catholic High School students visited the New York State Capital Building in Albany for Legislative Day on Feb. 4. They are pictured here with NYS Assemblyman Colin Schmitt. (Photo provided)

GOSHEN — Nineteen students from John S. Burke Catholic High School traveled to Albany on Feb. 4 to attend Legislative Day at the New York State Capitol.
The students told lawmakers about their tobacco control work with local communities and health care organizations. In the well of the Legislative Office Building, youth leaders hosted an interactive, life-sized board game called “Tobacco Trouble” to highlight recent tobacco control successes and the continued fight against Big Tobacco. They showed how the tobacco industry has overfilled the state’s retail outlets with tobacco products.
“The use of electronic cigarettes threatens the well-being of our generation and continues to be a prevalent issue, especially among teenagers,” said junior Madelyn St. Amand. “It was an empowering experience to speak to our senators, people who actually have the ability to make a real change. We took a big step in furthering our mission at the New York State Capitol.”
E-cigarette use spikes among youthSchools from across the state represented their counties on Legislative Day. Burke Catholic students represented Orange County.
The students are members of Burke Catholic’s Reality Check program. They were accompanied by Kathleen Kish, a nurse at the high school, and Carissa Mazzeo, the Reality Check Manager for POW’R Against Tobacco.
Meghan Dubois-O’Connor, community engagement manager for POW’R Against Tobacco, is a Burke alumna, Class of 1999.
"It was incredible to work alongside our Reality Check youth from Orange County," she said. "They spoke eloquently about the impact of tobacco in their community and the unique perspective they have on the vaping epidemic. According to the data from the New York State Youth Tobacco Survey, from 2014 to 2018 youth e-cigarette usage increased 160 percent, which now places 27.4 percent of youth using these products and 30.4 percent using any tobacco product. The fight against tobacco is far from over and dedicated youth like those at Burke are ready to keep educating their peers, teachers and parents.”
Representing Orange CountyStudents had the opportunity to meet with various members of the New York State legislature, including local lawmakers Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, Senator Jen Metzger, and Senator James Skoufis. Schmitt took the students onto the floor of the chambers and explained the legislative process.
“Here in New York State, we have made great strides to end teen smoking, but new products threaten to undo this progress,” said Mazzeo. “It is the amazing voices of the youth at John S. Burke High School and across the state that will address the social acceptability of tobacco in our communities. While 2018 was the first year for teen smoking to increase since 2000, I am sure with the dedication and hard work of this group we can create the first tobacco-free generation, address smoking related health disparities and inequities, reduce youth exposure to tobacco marketing, and increase the availability of tobacco-free outdoor spaces.”
John Douthit, principal of operations at Burke Catholic, said Legislative Day increases students' understanding through a real-world application.
“Becoming involved in governmental organizations, even at the high school level, provides valuable opportunities for learning and professional development," he said.