BULLHEAD CITY — It didn’t take much convincing to make Felicity Burke an anti-tobacco advocate.
“It’s too yucky,” said Burke, 13, a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Colorado River. “They should stop growing tobacco. They should destroy it.”
Burke already has done that in her young life.
“I used to break my parents’ cigarettes and throw them in the trash,” she said sheepishly.
Club Teen Director Jon Moss isn’t advocating that type of destruction — it could carry some serious repercussions — but he is directing club members to be activists in the fight against children’s exposure to tobacco. The club’s Teens Against Nicotine Coalition is trying to convince the Bullhead City Council to make city parks tobacco-free zones. Club members spent a day last week writing letters to the council and drawing images of what they think a public park should look like.
“Our main focus is Community Park, Rotary Park and Ken Fovargue Park,” Moss said. “Those are the ones that seem to get used the most by kids, between AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), softball, Little League and us (the Boys & Girls Club).”
He said the TAN Coalition became aware of a similar initiative in Kingman and decided to put together a plan to coincide with National Kick Butts Day, a nationwide youth anti-tobacco effort organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and sponsored by the United Health Foundation.
Moss said the hope is not only to help kids make choices toward a healthier lifestyle, but to learn about how to create positive responses to real-life situations.
“It’s been a really fun process,” he said. “The kids have learned a lot about the process.”
Not only has there been education about the health risks of tobacco use, but there has been discussion on how advocacy groups operate, how constituents (even those who can’t vote yet) can contact their elected officials and how to coordinate several activities toward a common goal.
The most important —and immediate — part of the plan is the letter-writing campaign to members of the Bullhead City Council.
“We want to bring a binder of letters to the council,” said Moss, adding that the club will deliver those letters at an upcoming council meeting, hoping that Bullhead City’s governing body will consider tobacco prohibitions — or at the least, restrictions — at city facilities where children frequently gather.
Tommy Bigelow, director of operations and community outreach for the local Boys & Girls Club, said it was only fitting that the club not only endorse the anti-tobacco campaign but become actively involved in it.
“As a staff, we’re committed to being tobacco-free,” he said, noting that the club campus on Highland Road is a tobacco-free zone. “We’re trying to set an example.”
Club President and CEO Teri Tomlinson said it is one of the more important components “of our core training” toward developing healthier future adults.
“The fact that we’re able to put together a program on healthy lifestyles and offer it to our members (during spring break at the local schools) is really important to us,” she said.
Burke was just one of many club members more than willing to join the anti-tobacco crusade.
“Smoking is one of the worst things in the world,” suggested Paige Taylor, 10.
“It can hurt the environment and it can hurt people,” added Eternity Almeida, 10, trying to convey those messages in her letter to the council.
“People die from smoking,” said Shelby Jenkins, who despite being only 8 years old seemed to have a pretty good grasp on the clinical data. “It’s not good for you.”
Jenkins said she has relatives who smoke. She said she wished they didn’t.
“I try to get them to stop, but they won’t stop,” she said sadly.
Summer Young, 10, said she is going to urge anyone she knows who uses tobacco to find a way to kick the habit.
“They’ll die,” she said matter-of-factly. “Smoking is bad for you.”
She said she is pushing “for a smoking-free park” so kids can play without being in contact with second-hand smoke, adding that sometimes a trip to the park isn’t as much fun “because people smoke there.”
Moss said that the younger club members already had pretty good awareness on the dangers of smoking even before the Kick Butts Day activities. That, he said, likely was a combination of parental guidance, public scrutiny of tobacco use and the club’s discussion of healthy lifestyles.
“For the younger kids, it’s mostly education,” he said of the local focus developed from material provided by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “We, as a club, try to steer them toward a healthy lifestyle, being active, avoiding drugs, alcohol, tobacco. We try to steer them toward those decisions.”
Tyler Reed, 8, was in the club’s arts and crafts room drawing a picture of what he thought a tobacco-free park should look like.
His drawing showed several children having fun on playground equipment — swings, slides, climbing bars — under a bright sun and a blue sky.
Also prominent in his picture was a big, red “no smoking” sign in the middle of the park.
Asked if that was how the park should be, he nodded as he looked at the work-in-progress and resumed coloring the vivid sky.
“People shouldn’t smoke there,” he said. “Kids are playing there.”
Several dozen club members took part in the National Kick Butts Day activities. Moss said that was a positive response, considering that many families made other plans during spring break – and some members were taking part in other school-related activities during the intersession.
“For the kids to be here, that’s the tough part,” he said. “The ones who are here all seem to want to be involved.”
As for the effectiveness of the letter-writing campaign, Moss said he was hopeful.
“We’ll present the letters to the city council and see what happens,” he said. “It’s a start.”
Youths and tobacco use
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Smoking and smokeless tobacco use are initiated and established primarily during adolescence. Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers started smoking by age 18, and 99 percent started by age 26.1
Each day in the United States, more than 3,200 people younger than 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette, and an estimated 2,100 youth and young adults who have been occasional smokers become daily cigarette smokers.
If smoking persists at the current rate among youth in this country, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 years of age are projected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. This represents about one in every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger alive today.
In 2012, 6.7 percent of middle school and 23.3 percent of high school students currently used tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, snus, smokeless tobacco, pipes, bidis, keteks, dissolvable tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.
From 2011–2012, electronic cigarette use doubled among middle and high school students, and hookah use increased among high school students.
* Current use of smokeless tobacco is about half of what it was in the mid-1990s. However, only a modest decline has occurred since 2010 and no change occurred between 2012 and 2013. Smokeless tobacco use remains a mostly male behavior.6
* Concurrent use of multiple tobacco products is prevalent among youth. Among high school students who report currently using tobacco, almost one-third of females and one-half of males report using more than one tobacco product in the past 30 days.2