By Patrick Donachie
A number of student advocates from southeast Queens traveled to Albany last week to encourage legislators to do more to discourage smoking among New York City residents, particularly teenagers.
Hakim Evans, a student at the Preparatory Academy for Writers in Jamaica and a member of Reality Check Queens, said student groups from throughout the state met with their respective representatives Feb. 7.
“I think it’s something I give my time to because in New York City it’s very easy to be affected by tobacco users,” Evans said about his activism. “I think a lot of people are affected and don’t realize it.”
Evans and the rest of his group met with state Assemblywomen Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) and Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica), as well as representatives for numerous other lawmakers.
Reality Check is the student engagement arm of NYC Smoke-Free, which aims to inform representatives on how to continue to drive down tobacco use among communities.
Though tobacco use has decreased, higher rates of smoking continue to persist among individuals with less than a high school education, with an income less than $25,000 per year and with individuals with mental health issues, according to Vanessa Yvon, the Queens student engagement coordinator for NYC Smoke-Free.
“Although we have made great strides in fighting against the tobacco epidemic, more work needs to be done within our local communities to reduce smoking rates and tobacco-related issues that have plagued our disparate populations,” she said.
Evans said he hoped there was a way to limit the number of tobacco outlets in the community.
In Jamaica, he said, almost every corner has a deli, with each store supplying tobacco, making it easy for community members and teenagers to find tobacco.
He said “tobacco proliferation” could have dire health consequences for individuals in the neighborhood, including increased rates of asthma and bronchitis from secondhand smoke.
Evans said he saw a positive response from the legislators they spoke to, and the group was looking forward to partnering with the American Cancer Society to focus on the fight against Big Tobacco during the annual “Kick Butts Day,” which will be in March.
He also hoped elected officials would push for more students in their district to become politically engaged.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona