AMSTERDAM - Lined up alongside a group of students from Canajoharie and Johnstown schools, 70 pairs of empty shoes sat neatly in rows, representing a visual of how many people reportedly die from tobacco-related illnesses a day in New York state.
The event, Kick Butts Day, a rally hosted by the youth and leadership of anti-tobacco groups Project ACTION and Reality Check, was the first of its kind held at the Riverfront Center on Wednesday morning.
Students from the Canajoharie Middle School Students Against Destructive Decisions club and Johnstown High School students from Reality Check joined together wearing green shirts that read "70 New Yorkers die a day due to tobacco use."
Canajoharie sixth-grader Aiden DiLorenzo holds a sign at Kick Butts Day at the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Amanda Whistle
That statistic is according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids website at www.tobaccofreekids.org.
"Kick Butts Day is a day for activism when thousands of youth in every state and around the world will stand out, speak up and seize control against big tobacco," said Justin Hladik, coordinator for Reality Check of Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery Counties.
Rebecca Guarino, program coordinator of Project ACTION Tobacco-Free Coalition of Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery Counties, said each year the coalition and Reality Check usually travel to schools for Kick Butts Day for a presentation, but this year, they wanted to do something different to get a message out in the community.
The 70 pairs of shoes will be donated to the Hamilton County Community Action program, Guarino said.
"If we don't do something soon, 389,000 kids alive in New York today will die prematurely from tobacco-related illness," she said. "They will become one of these empty pair of shoes."
One of Project ACTION's goals includes prohibiting the display of tobacco products in retailers in which minors are allowed. Almost 90 percent of smokers have their first cigarette by age 18, according to the new surgeon general report fact sheet.
More than 1,200 people die daily nationwide from diseases related to tobacco use, according to the surgeon general.
The students ended the event with a chant echoing through the center saying, "We've seen enough! We want our change!" referring to tobacco marketing.
The Canajoharie Middle School SADD group started about three years ago and has a growing membership of 85 students out of 240 students in the school, said advisers Sherri Buteau and Emily Cheney.
"These kids are passionate and they believe in the mission statement," Reality Check Coordinator Sarah Kraemer said.