Posting their take on tobacco

Billboards: As the cigarette companies' signs come down, kids' anti-smoking posters will be among those that go up around the state.

April 06, 1999|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

The latest round in the tobacco wars pits the selling prowess of Madison Avenue against the persuasive power of middle schoolers. As any parent will tell you, Madison Avenue better watch out.

In a pre-Opening Day ceremony at Oriole Park at Camden Yards yesterday, three young artists who won a middle-school contest were honored for their anti-smoking posters, which will replace cigarette billboards in key locations around the state.

"We're enlisting young people to send a message to young people," said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who co-sponsored the contest with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Thousands of baseball fans were treated to 14-year-old Tammy Lee's painting of a teen-age smoker mugging before a bathroom mirror, now on a billboard looking over Russell Street on view for drivers headed south to Baltimore-Washington Parkway or Interstate 95. The image reflected back at him is a jackass, and the slogan reads: "What You Do Reflects Who You Are!"

Under the national tobacco settlement reached in November, cigarette makers' billboards must come down in every state by April 23. The settlement requires the tobacco companies to donate the unexpired time on their billboard leases for anti-smoking messages.

Curran estimated that 60 billboards will be available from a few months to five years. In addition to the three middle schoolers' posters, the state will use anti-smoking billboards designed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

State officials say peer pressure, with a push from Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, produced the dreary statistics that inspired the contest: 400 Maryland children start smoking each week, and about one-third are expected to die prematurely as a result. Now they hope to turn the same powerful advertising force against smoking.

Tammy, an eighth-grader at Cabin John Middle School in Montgomery County, posed yesterday with state officials beside her fellow winners, Katie Lancaster, 12, of Esperanza Middle School in St. Mary's County and Ashley Chambers, 11, of General Smallwood Middle School in Charles County.

None has tried smoking, but many of their classmates are lighting up, they said.

"At the bus stop, they hide behind the bushes and you see their lighters flick," said Katie, whose poster shows a sad clown with a cigarette and reads, "Smoking -- It's No Joke!"

"I asked one girl why she smoked, and she said it was cool and would make her look older," said Tammy. "But now she wants to quit and she says she can't."

"It's sssooo stupid," declared Ashley, who concocted her slogan -- "Don't Be a Butthead -- Cool Kids Don't Smoke" -- after brainstorming with her mother, a former smoker.

In addition to the three selected for billboards, several dozen students' posters chosen from more than 500 entered in the contest will be used in a traveling exhibit and a dozen will be printed in a calendar to be distributed to schools. "Smoking Is Pretty -- Pretty Ugly," reads one. "Smoking Smells Like a Bad Idea," says another.

State Health Secretary Dr. Martin P. Wasserman used the occasion to plug the proposed $1 increase in the state's 36-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes, which is intended to discourage children from taking up the habit. The tax has passed the House of Delegates, but is expected to face a tougher time in the Senate.

"With these billboards and a tax increase, we'll run the tobacco industry out of marketing to young people," Wasserman said.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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