Local youth speak out against tobacco use

photo by Kevin King

Jefferson County Commissioners issued a proclamation naming Monday, March 17, Kicks Butts Day in Jefferson County to raise awareness and acknowledge activism by local youth to stand up and speak out against tobacco use.

Organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Kick Butts Day is an annual, nationwide celebration of youth leadership and activism in the fight against tobacco. During the week, youth will encourage their peers to stay tobacco-free and educate their communities about the tobacco industry’s harmful marketing practices.

Connie Berry, community relations manager at Julie Rogers Gift of Life, said “The Gift of Life Youth Council is comprised of more than 50 students from 22 regional high schools in Southeast Texas. The youth chose Kick Butts Day as their spring project to help encourage their peers to reject tobacco and the tobacco industry’s deceptive marketing, particularly to those under the age of 18.”

 Berry said the students’ goal as school leaders is to make daily school announcements and broadcasts warning of the dangers of tobacco use and citing statistics that back up those warnings. Tina Nguyen and Hannah McGowin, both seniors at Nederland High School, and Joseph Trahan, a senior at Hamshire-Fannett High School, were present at Jefferson County Commissioners Court on Monday to represent the Gift of Life Youth Council and share information regarding the dangers of tobacco use. Nguyen is student body president at Nederland High School and Joseph Trahan is student body president at Hamshire-Fannett. McGowin serves on the student council at Nederland High.

“It is something that is preventable and causes many diseases that we can prevent,” said Nguyen, in response to why she decided to speak out against tobacco use.

“Eight hundred million packs of cigarettes are consumed by kids under the age of 18 on an annual basis,” said Regina Rogers, Gift of Life founder and chair, citing statistics from a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. “It is estimated that more than 6 million of those individual kids will die prematurely from smoking at some point in their lives. It’s a hard habit to break, and we’re here trying to help.”

This year, Kick Butts Day comes as new information reaffirms the urgent need for action. The U.S. is marking the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, and a new report released in January found that smoking is even more hazardous than previously thought. Key findings of the report include:

• Each year, smoking kills 480,000 people in the U.S. and costs the nation at least $289 billion in health care bills and other economic losses.

• Without urgent action to reduce smoking, 5.6 million U.S. children alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease. That includes 498,000 children in Texas alone.

• Tobacco marketing causes kids to start and continue using tobacco products

In Texas alone, tobacco use claims 23,900 lives and costs $8.85 billion in health care bills each year. Currently, 17.4 percent of the state’s high school students smoke.

“I’m so proud of these young people,” said Rogers. “This program is something that we believe in very strongly. This is the one preventable area that can really make a tremendous impact on the health care costs in this country and in Jefferson County. The tobacco companies spend billions of dollars ... to convince young people to begin this habit.”

For more information, visit www.tobaccofreekids.org.