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WI Youth: Getting Schooled on the Facts About Tobacco

September 13, 2010

GREENDALE, Wis. - Ten years after big tobacco promised to stop marketing to young people, many claim the companies are still doing it - and some young folks say they know they're being targeted to become the next generation of smokers. A state program called FACT - Fighting Against Corporate Tobacco - is managed by the American Lung Association in Wisconsin.

Seventeen-year-old Carrie Staats, a senior at Greendale High School, has been active in FACT for three years. She says people her age are being targeted.

"It's because we are tomorrow's customers, even though we are not legally allowed to purchase tobacco products yet. There's a statistic out there that shows that the majority of smokers - the vast majority of smokers today - started before the age of 18."

FACT helps young people avoid using tobacco, Staats says.

"We really just try to expose and educate people of my age group about the different types of tobacco products that are used, and all the different advertising techniques that are used that are directly geared toward people of my age group."

Billy Gifford, CEO of Philip Morris, says they don't target underage youth and don't try to convince anyone to smoke.
However, FACT's focus this year is the new tobacco products that have just come on the market or will be soon, available in candy and fruit flavors. The group believes they are packaged to attract young people, and Staats points out that these new products may be sweet and tempting, but are still deadly.

Her high school FACT group has done several projects. One asked students to write down ways tobacco had affected their lives, and Staats says that one got a huge response.

"We were flipping through some of the message cards and reading what they wrote. Some of the ways that tobacco has affected their lives - it honestly is heartbreaking."

Staats joined 10 other FACT Youth Board members this past weekend at a statewide meeting to brainstorm new ideas to help reach young people and empower them to make informed choices about tobacco.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI