Students battle Big Tobacco
Ariel Tunnell has asthma, and wants to be able to dine in restaurants and not fear tobacco smoke will trigger an asthma attack.
Dan Murphy hates tobacco, too. He has seen the health problems that smoking caused for his grandfather.
Murphy, 17, and Tunnell, 16, are both members of Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT, a statewide, youth-run organization dedicated to fighting tobacco use.
The groupâ€™s mission statement is as bold as a line in the sand:
To empower and unite youth to resist and expose Big Tobaccoâ€™s lies while changing current attitudes about tobacco.
Recent estimates are that tobacco companies spent more than $64 million to advertise tobacco products in Oklahoma last year, said Tiffeani Murphy, field coordinator for the American Lung Association of Oklahoma.
She also is Dan Murphyâ€™s older sister and acts as the facilitator for the Downtown SWAT group, which draws most of its members from schools in north Oklahoma City.
Murphy said the youth organization also works to protect children and teens from tobacco addiction and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Oklahomaâ€™s Students Working Against Tobacco organization is funded by a three-year grant from the American Legacy Foundation, which distributes small amounts of the tobacco settlement money awarded to 46 states, explained Doug Matheny, director of the Office of Tobacco Use Prevention at the state Health Department.
Oklahomaâ€™s group is one of just 12 programs the foundation funded, Matheny said Tuesday.
SWAT has helped turn the tables on Big Tobacco in Oklahoma, Matheny said. SWAT members have been very effective in telling other kids, â€˜Donâ€™t get sucked in by Big Tobaccoâ€™s adsâ€™ promoting smoking.â€™
Darrell L. Nowlin, who covers eight counties as coordinator of Oklahomaâ€™s Central Region for Students Working Against Tobacco, said the organizationâ€™s main strength is the enthusiasm and idealism its youthful members bring to the issue.
Nowlin said a large group is flourishing in Edmond, and similar programs are active or forming in other communities in the region. Members generally range from 12 to 18 years of age.
SWAT is successful because the older kids become mentors and role models to the younger middle-school kids, Nowlin said.
Both Dan Murphy and Ariel Tunnell talked about the groupâ€™s mission during a recent work session to make SWAT signs that members can carry in parades, at school assemblies or other outreach efforts.
The two teens are irate about the ways they say that tobacco companies direct advertising promoting cigarettes and other tobacco products to children and teens.
Among the marketing ploys they cited are placing cigarette advertisements at lower than eye level in store windows or close to candy racks in convenience stores, the two said.
Did you know Big Tobacco companies pay some stores to put cigarette ads in those places? said Dan Murphy, a junior at Bishop McGuinness High School.
Tunnell, a student at Classen School of Advanced Studies, is proud of the groupâ€™s recent hard-hitting anti-smoking presentation using Toxic Balloons at Columbus Elementary School in south Oklahoma City.
We blew up balloons and put notes inside them showing the chemicals present in cigarette smoke, like acetone, an ingredient in nail polish remover, and ammonia, thatâ€™s used in toilet bowl cleaners, Tunnell said.
Then the youth group had the children pop the balloons and read some of the chemicals aloud.
The kids went wild when they heard about all that toxic stuff, Tunnell recalled. One little boy said, â€˜Yuck! My momâ€™s smoking nail polish.â€™