Students join fight against tobacco use

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Nearly 40 anti-tobacco youth coalitions across the state, including one in Craig, roamed their communities Saturday, picking up cigarette butts to fill a body bag that will be used in a protest against tobacco companies.

Jenna Stiefel, a senior at Moffat County High School, participated. She and her peers filled 7 gallon-sized bags full of discarded cigarettes. They sent them off to Denver Monday morning.

"We just want to get the point across that nicotine is a drug and it kills people," Stiefel said.

Participants were members of Moffat County's chapter of the youth coalition, Get R!EAL (Resist! Expose Advertising Lies), which dubs itself "Colorado's youth movement against advertising lies."

Among these lies is the idea that smoking somehow improves your social status, said sophomore Jojo La.

"In ads, (tobacco companies) have young, beautiful, sexy people. I think they advertise to teens. They make it look cool," La said. "The people who are smoking (in the ads) have pearly white teeth."

La said cigarettes are cheap in Colorado, making cigarettes even easier for teens to obtain.

Cigarettes in Colorado are cheaper than in 47 other states.

According to Get R!EAL, "Colorado's excise tax is the third lowest in the nation at 20 cents a pack, compared to the national average of 70.5 cents."

Get R!EAL quoted the director of youth programs with the State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership as saying "Research shows that low-cost cigarettes contribute to increased tobacco use and that cigarette price increases are effective at preventing kids from taking up this deadly habit."

"I have a lot of friends who smoke," La said. It's a comment echoed by others in the Get R!EAL group, and evidence that despite all the measures to keep cigarettes out of underage hands, teens still find a way to procure them.

"Everyone I talk to regrets it (smoking), but it's just too addictive" La said.

The teens who walked Craig parking lots Saturday said they were amazed by the amount of litter generated by discarded cigarette butts.

"Oh my gosh, they (butts) were all over the place -- everywhere we walked," La said.

According to Stiefel, she and her friends in Get R!EAL only had to walk through three parking lots to collect the seven bags of butts in a little over two hours.

At one point during their scavenging mission, Stiefel said the group ran into a smoker.

Stiefel said the smoker noted the amount of butts they were collecting.

"Well, if you wouldn't throw them..." Stiefel responded.

"It was kind of an awkward moment," Stiefel said of the encounter.

Craig's Get R!EAL group is funded by two grants from the Colorado Department of Public Health, said Kathy Bockelman, the group's adult sponsor. The money was derived from settlements against the tobacco industry. But Bockelman said she's not sure how much longer the money will hold out because much of the tobacco settlement money was diverted into the state's general fund.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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