Landmark Legislation Marks First Step Toward Tobacco-Free Youth
JACKSON, Miss., May 22 /PRNewswire/ -- After nearly five months of youth- led lobbying, the Mississippi legislature passed House Bill 641 banning the use of tobacco products on school grounds, thanks to the lobbying efforts of Frontline, Mississippi's ant
``It's amazing,'' said Seth Bassett, a 16-year-old student in Jackson, MS. ``I never thought we could accomplish something like this. I never thought anyone would pay attention to a group of kids. But I guess this goes to show that people really do listen when we talk.''
Since early January, Frontline has launched a series of events -- from launching an aggressive letter writing campaign, to pushing a statewide petition, to providing testimony to the Mississippi legislature, to gathering more than 500 youth for a ``Lobbypalooza'' rally on the capitol steps -- all in the effort to ban the use of all tobacco products on school grounds and at all school events. Success was measured not only on passing the bill, but also in the unexpected support from teachers and legislators who have been long time smokers.
``If we expect our youth to refuse to use tobacco, then we need to set an example for them,'' said Scott McDonald, a teacher in Mississippi. ``I've been a smoker for nearly 40 years. If keeping tobacco off school grounds means that I can prevent my students from starting to smoke, I'll be the first one to support the ban.''
The bill prevents minors and adults from using tobacco products (including spit tobacco) on school campuses, grounds, recreational areas, or athletic fields. Furthermore, the bill bans smoking at school related events like football games. Traditionally recognized for state and individual rights, this ban marks an exceptionally important milestone for tobacco prevention in Mississippi. Until just recently, Mississippi legislators were still allowed to smoke while in session.
``The instrumental role played by Frontline in keeping tobacco out of Mississippi's schools is a fantastic example of the power of youth advocates as a force for positive social change,'' said Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. ``The passage of this important legislation also demonstrates how policy change can and must be used to enhance tobacco prevention efforts. The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi's school, community, and media-based prevention campaigns will be all the more effective because the school environment will now be consistent with the messages delivered by the program.''
The success of House Bill 641 comes at a particularly difficult time for big tobacco. Allegations that tobacco companies are still targeting youth are currently under investigation by state attorneys general.
``Frontline has worked diligently to help institute a policy change that will remove tobacco use from the school culture,'' said Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove. ``Their efforts, combined with efforts of youth across the country, will continue to redefine how our youth view tobacco use. And at that point, no amount of advertising will help the tobacco companies.''
Frontline is a division of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. With more than 2,000 Mississippi youth supporting Frontline, the movement urges teens to question the tobacco industry's motives of targeting teens to buy their products.
The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi was established as a nonprofit organization dedicated to offering youth healthy lifestyle choices and eliminating tobacco use among youth. Comprised of more 60 statewide, government and nongovernmental agencies, and more than 600 local organizations, the Partnership is funded by a $62 million award from the tobacco industry which is separate from the state's historic $4 billion settlement.