Middle-schoolers observe Kids Kick Butts Day





Katie Chandler, Kenneth Henderson Middle School seventh-grader, had a simple message for her classmates on Wednesday.

"The right decision can put you on the right path for life," the president of the KHMS Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter, said during an event sponsored by the group called Kids Kick Butts Day — a campaign aimed at making kids aware of the dangers of tobacco usage.

Kids Kick Butts Day is a nationwide event that is organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In most school districts, the event took place on March 19. But because USD 457 was on spring break then, the event was held at KHMS Wednesday during the lunch hour in the cafeteria, where Kellie Pitts, SADD sponsor and counselor at KHMS, warned students about the dangers of tobacco use.

"The tobacco industry, right now, is targeting you guys and people younger than you, even children, by flavoring all of their tobacco products with candy flavors like cherry and grape, mint, all that. And the purpose is because they need a new generation of tobacco users — they need you guys to keep their industry going." Pitts said. "So we want to educate you guys, so you don't continue that same pattern of mistakes of using tobacco products. So don't buy into their lies, guys, and don't use tobacco products."

According to a press release from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, nationwide, tobacco companies spend $8.8 billion a year — $1 million each hour — to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. In particular, tobacco companies target youth with magazine ads, store ads and discounts, and fruit- and candy-flavored small cigars that look just like cigarettes.

"On Kick Butts Day, kids will stand up and reject big tobacco's manipulative marketing," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Elected officials must stand with them by supporting proven measures to protect kids from tobacco addiction, including tobacco taxes, smoke-free laws and prevention programs."

To help illustrate the number of deaths related to tobacco use, the SADD group set up a table with plates on it during the lunch hour.

"So these plates up here — there are actually 19 plates and they represent that approximately 19 people in the United States die during the time of this lunch shift from diseases and things caused from smoking or chewing tobacco. Tobacco kills more than 400,000 people in the U.S. each year," KHMS Counselor Courtney Goble told the students.

Pitts said the number of tobacco-related deaths exceeds the number of deaths caused by murder, suicide, car crashes, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and the AIDS virus combined.

According to the press release, in Kansas alone, tobacco use claims 3,800 lives and costs $1.1 billion in health care bills each year. Currently, 14.4 percent of Kansas high school students smoke.

Eighth-graders Sahira Aguilar and Katia Lopez said that after hearing about the dangers of smoking and chewing tobacco, they will never try it. When asked how she will handle peer pressure to use tobacco, Katia said, "I will just walk away and say no."

Several other students got the message loud and clear, as well.

Eighth-grader Abby Castanon said that she learned a lot about the way that something masked as something sweet or harmless can actually contain harmful ingredients.

"Using tobacco can give you cancer, or the chemicals that are in the tobacco can kill you," she said.

To drive the point home with students, the SADD group handed out a flier that showed the word sweet on the front page, but when the front page was turned, a picture of a shark with its mouth wide open and the message, "Sweet can cover up a lot of dangerous stuff," was revealed.

Eighth-grader Della Benitez said this taught her a valuable lesson.

"Sometimes, like the taste of it can cover up the actual thing, like the drugs and stuff and make you think, 'Oh it's OK,' but it's actually not," she said.

Pitts said that was the whole point of the event.

"We're just all about educating our students so they're aware of that statistic and then also, we want to educate them about how the tobacco industry is targeting their use, by flavoring their tobacco products with candy flavors," she said.

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