Students spending week urging teens not to smoke


March 18, 1998|By Bonita Formwalt | Bonita Formwalt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

EVERY DAY, 3,000 kids become addicted to tobacco -- 1,000 will die prematurely due to smoking related diseases.

A report by the Food and Drug Administration's Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids contains alarming, but not surprising, statistics. And it's these numbers that make the observance of Tobacco-Free Kids Week even more important as area youths spend the week encouraging a smoke-free lifestyle for all ages.

The average teen smoker begins at age 13.

It's not hard to find teen smokers. Drive past the mall on a Friday night or catch up with middle school students sneaking out of a movie early, before mom arrives to carpool them home.

Or check out smoke-filled bathrooms at the high school.

"It's outrageous," says Chrisse Kuegel, a junior at Glen Burnie High. "Some of the bathrooms are disgusting. If I don't smoke, why should I suffer the consequences?"

Chrisse and other members of Glen Burnie High's Student Government Association will be spending this week impressing on fellow students the importance of not starting a habit they might have to struggle for years to overcome. During lunch periods this week, smokers are being asked to sign a pledge that they will quit smoking, and nonsmokers will pledge to help someone quit. On Friday, a student dressed as a diseased lung will share the message a bit more graphically.

About two-thirds of teen smokers say they want to quit smoking.

Chrisse concedes that the anti-smoking campaign won't convince everyone, but she hopes enough smokers will get the point.

"They understand completely what smoking does," she says. "They know what can happen if they smoke. We get enough information at school and on television. A lot of teens just have an 'it won't happen to me' attitude about smoking."

Lisa Gilmer says she hopes she can make a difference by preventing younger children from being lured into smoking.

As a mother and an assistant leader for Brownie Troop 941 at Harundale Presbyterian Church, she is using Tobacco Free Kids Week as a way to help members of her troop earn their no-smoking patches.

Both Gilmer and troop leader Gloria Rankin see the event not only as a chance to teach the girls the dangers of smoking, but also as a chance help them to recognize how effectively the cigarette manufacturers target potential smokers.

Eighty-five percent of underage smokers purchase the three most heavily advertised brands. Fifty percent of children 12 to 17 who smoke own at least one promotional item with a tobacco logo.

"We want them to look at samples of advertising and see what is misleading about the ads," Gilmer says. "We want them to see how the manufacturers are trying to manipulate kids to smoke using T-shirts, key rings and clever ads."

Tobacco-Free Kids Week continues through Sunday. For information on programs to help stop smoking, call the county health department's Learn to Live line, 410-222-7979; Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 202-452-1184; or 800-284-KIDS.

Hospital health fair

Information on ways to stop smoking will be available at a free health fair from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Elks Lodge of Glen Burnie, Stevenson and Quarterfield roads.

Sponsored by North Arundel Hospital, the family event will offer several screenings and informative displays.

Screenings for cholesterol, glaucoma, pulse, blood pressure and foot problems are scheduled, along with information on pulmonary functions, colon cancer, sleep disorders, home health and women's health issues.

Information: 410-787-4367.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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