Teens penetrate cloud of lies endorsed by tobacco companies

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Craig's Get R!EAL group recently earned a grant to help publicize some disturbing facts.

Ninety percent of smokers begin as teenagers and almost 11,000 Colorado youth become daily smokers each year.

To stomp out these statistics, the local anti-tobacco group hopes a recent $3,350 grant garnered from a portion of tobacco settlements will help increase the numbers of youth the group can support.

"This helps students learn more about the tobacco industry and the things they learn really amaze them," said Get R!EAL coordinator Kathy Bockelman. "It's easy to get students interested at the middle school and at the high school."

The group maintains about 24 members, who plan anti-tobacco activities throughout the year.

With the help of the grant, Bockelman hopes the group can post anti-tobacco slogans leading up the Moffat County High School. Other events include movie nights where students sound off noisemakers each time they witness a reference to a tobacco product.

"I remember watching a movie with the students when they were positive they wouldn't find any tobacco-related messages," said Bockelman. "I think they were surprised that they couldn't keep writing them down fast enough."

According to high school senior Katie Kinkaid, being involved in Get R!EAL has helped open her eyes to the false but persistent messages often touted by tobacco companies.

"It hurts me because they target teens and they know we're vulnerable," she said. "The tobacco industry spends millions of dollars to get people addicted. They try to get us at a young age so we can smoke our whole lives."

Kinkaid recently dissuaded a friend from smoking by explaining the aggressive marketing campaigns of tobacco companies.

"Smoking doesn't make you look cool," Kinkaid told her friend. "They don't care about you, they just care about your money."

Get R!EAL member Jenna Stiefel said she gains a lot of knowledge about the throes of tobacco addiction from her involvement in the group.

The high school senior also said it's also a great way to do community service.

Earlier this year, the group gathered cigarette butts around town and sent them off to be placed in body bags that reached tobacco company corporate headquarters.

The latest grant should help keep more programs such as that going, Stiefel said.

"Now that we have a big grant, I'd like to see our group grow," she said. "I think there would be lot of high school students who would like to get involved."

Though it's hard to judge the effects of the local campaign, Judy a, who provides technical assistance for acquiring the grant through the Visiting Nurse Association, said the anti-tobacco message is catching on -- and the efforts of young people are largely responsible.

"Everybody listens when youth speak out," she said. "It helps support the adults when youth get involved."

A decrease in the number of statewide tobacco users may be the result of collaboration of efforts from a variety of events like the Great American Smokeout and similar anti-tobacco campaigns, Heister said.

"It's all these things collectively that we see a measurement in the decrease of our statewide numbers," she added. "The numbers are going down slowly but they are going down."

Get R!EAL may plan to host a smoke-free night at the Craig Lanes bowling alley.

The local group may participate in an upcoming statewide program that seats youth in smoking sections of restaurants -- eliminating smoking in those areas for a day.

According to Bockelman, the need to inform youth about the anti-tobacco message stems from a personal drive.

Bockelman's parents both died of cancer after smoking their whole lives.

"I don't think they knew the dangers," she said of her parents. "It really hits home there."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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