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Coalition works to keep children off tobacco

Staff Writer

Smoking is not "the thing" to do anymore.

That’s the message some area students are trying to get out to the youth in Pike County.

Amos Q. Brown, Aaron Rascoe, Clarissa Parker, Emily Watkins and Will Williams have spent some of their summer learning about how to prevent tobacco use among youth.

Brown, Rascoe, Watkins and Williams attended the The truth Summit in Seattle, Wash. along with 14 other Alabama teens and a total of 1,000 from across the nation.

The four were chosen as members of the Tobacco Free Kids Coalition.

Here in Pike County, the young people have already done such things as influencing political decisions to ban cigarette vending machines, held a freedom from smoking clinic facilitation training workshop to train representatives from local industries, businesses and organizations how to teach others to stop smoking and have spoken at schools and press conferences on the dangers of using tobacco products.

And, they’re are planning to do much more now they have some more knowledge and ideas.

Liz Todd, Tobacco Prevention and Control Coordinator for the area through the Pike County Health Department, is working with the teens to get the word out about the dangers of using tobacco products, whether its lighting up or putting a pinch between the teeth and gums.

The primary purpose of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program is to address tobacco prevention through four goals: preventing youth initiation, secession education, addressing environmental tobacco smoke and identifying disparity groups targeted by the tobacco industry.

"What we want to do through the health department is set up a health coalition specifically dedicated to tobacco control in each county," Todd said.

But, it will take the youth to do this since other youth are not likely to listen to the woman from the health department.

Todd said studies show youth-led activities have more impact.

Rascoe said the summer training gave him some ideas that he hopes can be used here to inform other teens of the dangers of using cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

"I think it’s important to go into the middle schools," Rascoe said of talking with younger teens. "I think you ought to introduce it before they get into high school because that’s the transition years."

Brown agrees with Rascoe and thinks the education needs to start even earlier.

"I would like to see us go into the elementary schools and middle schools," Brown said. The younger ones "look at us as role models," he said.

Todd agreed and added statistics show the age of initiation is getting younger. The average age of a child first using a cigarette is 7, Todd said.

Part of the problem is things that target the younger ones, such as candy cigarettes and bubble gum packaged in Skoal-like containers.

Also, the tobacco industry has hit on promotions geared to children like giving away radios and other gifts with proofs of purchase from tobacco products.

"They’re not going to get the truth from the tobacco industry," Todd said of efforts of counter-marketing.

Rascoe said The truth Summit is a way to provide the truth about nicotine and what it really does to one’s body.

"We’re saying, it’s your decision, but here are the facts," Rascoe said.

Williams said one of the ideas discussed at the summer conferences is having juniors and seniors sign pledges not to smoke or drink before the prom.

While they are trying to convince other teens not to start, they will also be taking on the multi-million tobacco industry.

"We’re just overridden with advertising (for tobacco products) and enticements," Todd said.

The goal, she said, is to change the way of thinking so not smoking becomes the norm, rather than the opposite.

Anyone in the community interested in helping in the anti-tobacco campaign can contact Todd at 566-2860.