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Arkansas Kids Battle "Big Tobacco" at State Capitol

Thousands of kids across the nation are being asked to stand up to Big Tobacco on Kick Butts Day. (Veronica Carter)
Thousands of kids across the nation are being asked to stand up to Big Tobacco on Kick Butts Day. (Veronica Carter)
March 15, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – This week, kids in Arkansas and across the nation are being prompted to take on Big Tobacco by encouraging other young people to avoid smoking, holding events to send a message that they won't be manipulated into picking up a cigarette.

In Arkansas, about 1,500 teenagers are expected to rally at the state capitol on Wednesday. Genine Perez, director of the Arkansas Youth Leadership Initiative, says they have a message.

As Perez puts it, "'Big Tobacco, we're not going to allow you to manipulate us into being the next consumers of your product.' These young people are saying, 'Don't target us' – meaning don't use flavoring, don't use snazzy names, don't use your manipulative practices to try and get us hooked."

The "Kick Butts Day" march on the capitol, and a week of events across the state and nation, are being sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Deanna O'Malley is a member of Hometown Health Coalition, which has branches around the state. Sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Health, the coalition uses volunteers to hold tobacco cessation programs for teens, parenting support groups, local industry wellness programs, health fairs and household hazardous waste roundups.

O'Malley says kids need to encourage each other to make healthy choices. She knows it can be a challenge.

"The young people say, 'There's not a lot for us to do,'" says O'Malley. "There's really not, and we're really rural compared to other parts of the nation. I picture the farm boys and the pasture parties."

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says tobacco companies spend $9.6 billion a year nationwide – over $1 million an hour – to market tobacco products. In Arkansas, the group says, tobacco companies spend $119 million a year on marketing efforts.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR