Kids learn to kick butts

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Local YMCA hosts students for national day to wage fight against tobacco use

By Julie Gorham

Florida Department of Health in Citrus County supported National Kick Butts Day by showing YMCA kids the truth on Big Tobacco on Wednesday, March 15. 

Kick Butts Day is a national day of activism that empowers youths to stand out, speak up and seize control against Big Tobacco. There were more than 1,000 events in schools and communities across the United States and even around the world.

From tobacco products that look like candy to the new trend of electronic cigarettes, students got a full dose of reality on how the massive tobacco industry markets such products to youths. 

Every person over the age of 30 remembers watching television in the 1990s with the smooth character Joe Camel or the tall, dark Marlboro cowboy.  Joe Camel wore a snazzy suit showing smokers can be classy, while Marlboro’s cowboy was vigorous and manly. 

Today, tobacco marketing is less visible in the United States because these ads are banned on television, radio and billboards. 

“The issue is huge. Although there is no longer advertisement on TV, marketers for the tobacco industry found other ways to reach youths,” said Florida Department of Health in Citrus County Health Consultant Chloe Hale. “Tobacco companies make strips, orbs and sticks that look like a tic-tac, toothpick or Listerine strips, but contain nicotine, and a kid would never know the difference.” 

A new topic brought up during the annual event was the misconception that electronic cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes. A lack of long-term studies can’t support this, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“E-cigarettes have flavors that include red hots, cotton candy and chocolate. I think there are over 2,000 flavors,” Hale said. “We will educate the group of kids on how they are creating these flavors to target them and just because it is flavored does not mean it is OK — there is nicotine and it is still addictive.”

Local students couldn’t believe how tobacco companies spend about $10.5 billion to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in the U.S., nor how they were being trained to be “replacement smokers.” 

Students ages 8 through 16 at the local YMCA learned to define the differences between candy and tobacco products — realizing it is sometimes hard to tell.  As two groups attempted to define how each brand of tabacco matches a brand of candy, three siblings — Makenzie Sturdy, 10, brother Allen Sturdy, 12, and younger sister Savannah Flowers, 8 — were surprised at the resemblence of these products. 

“Wow! Mints look exactly like this tobacco,” Makenzie said of circular shapes and colors of the nonsmoking tobacco Skoal and sugar-free Ice Breakers Mints.  

Then, students put their thoughts and feelings on a handmade cigarette butt, to express how it feels being a target for a huge lobby. The kids also provided ideas to defeat them. 

“I really think smoking is a bad habit and it’s stupid when people do it,” Allen said. “I pledge to never start smoking, and I think we should contact Mr. Trump to the change rules with

Big Tobacco.”  


Contact Chronicle reporter Julie Gorham at 352-563-3236 or jgorham@chronicleonline.com.