2012-03-15 / Sports

‘Kick Ash’ conference shares anti-tobacco message

By Anna Bitong

Preston Hill, a freshman at Newbury Park High School, was surprised to learn that smoking a cigarette is hardly better than smoking rat poison.

The 15-year-old was among a group of Ventura County high school journalism students who attended Simi Valley Unified School District’s 14th annual Teens Kick Ash press conference on Feb. 28 at the Ventura County Office of Education in Camarillo.

Students from Simi Valley Unified, Conejo Va l - ley Unified, Oak Park Unified and Oxn ard Union High School District were asked to pass along to their classmates what they learned at the anti-tobacco conference.

“ Hopefully by instilling the facts and information into a small body of students, (the information) will expand,” said event organizer Cheri Toyen, Simi Unified’s coordinator for student support services. “Peers tend to listen to their peers, not necessarily adults all the time who are preaching to them.”

The three-hour conference featured a presentation by Amelia Silbert-Geiger, outreach and social media coordinator for the California Youth Advocacy Network, a group that promotes a tobacco-free California.

Silbert-Geiger discussed the tobacco industry’s history of manipulation tactics and marketing efforts, such as the Joe Camel cigarette campaign from 1987 to 1997.

A 1991 American Medical Association report said most 5- and 6-year-olds recognized Joe Camel over Mickey Mouse.

“ Billions of dollars have been spent trying to find out what you like,” Silbert-Geiger told the students.

The reason?

“They know when you’re in your teens you’re going to be a lifelong customer,” she said.

More than 80 percent of adult smokers pick up the deadly habit before the legal age of 18, Silbert-Geiger said. In Ventura County, 14 percent of young people are smokers.

But the tobacco companies are losing their customers at a rapid rate. An average of 100 Californians die every day from tobacco- related dis eas es , she said.

“All of their other smokers are dying. So they’ve got to replace them somehow. Younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers,” Silbert- Geiger said.

The speaker shattered several myths regarding some popular tobacco products.

Contrary to what people may believe, smoking from a hookah—a water pipe used for smoking flavored tobacco—carries a multitude of health risks.

Hookahs contain bacteria left in the hose by previous users, and the pipes carry 100 times more tar than a cigarette, she said.

Smoking a hookah for 45 minutes is equivalent to chainsmoking 15 cigarettes, and secondhand hookah smoke is just as bad as tobacco smoke, she said.

“ It’s not better for you. That’s a myth, a lie,” Silbert- Geiger said.

Students said the facts they learned made a strong impression on them.

“I already knew I wasn’t going to try (smoking), but it certainly brings knowledge to me that I can give to my friends,” said Newbury Park High freshman Kishen Majithia, 15.

It was the third time Royal High School juniors Rebecah Jacobs and Erin Guthrie attended the conference.

This year the students learned about the dangers of newer tobacco products such as nicotine strips and orbs, which resemble small mints. A young child who consumed a tin of orbs would die, Silbert-Geiger said, and a young adult might become seriously ill.

Erin was awed by the statistics.

“The number of people who die in California every day (because of tobacco) is shocking,” she said.

Other students were more critical of the presentation.

Preston of Newbury Park said it focused too heavily on the tobacco industry’s marketing ploys.

“I thought they could’ve done a better job telling you what happens to you if you smoke and how it leads to cancer. That’s what I think will get people to stop smoking,” Preston said.

And Conejo Valley High School senior Luz Flores thinks tobacco isn’t the most important topic.

“I don’t think young people do tobacco anymore; they’re all about weed now. (We) should start talking more about weed,” said the 17-year-old.

CVHS junior Isaac Garcia disagreed, saying teens start smoking because they’re curious and then continue with the habit.

“They think they look cool,” said Isaac, 17.

Camarillo High School’s Carla Hill said the decision to smoke is a personal one.

“ I think peer pressure ( to smoke) is slowly dying. But once you try it, you’re hooked,” the junior said.

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