Students now fighting tobacco on global level
Members of Students Working Against Tobacco converged in Tallahassee this weekend for the organization's state meeting at the Civic Center.
The youth-led anti-tobacco advocacy group launched its 'SWAT Without Borders' campaign Saturday. The objective: To raise awareness of the tobacco industry's marketing strategies in foreign countries. Members in each county were assigned a country.
SWAT plans to relay its message through Internet pals in those countries after first researching the area's marketing practices.
"I have full confidence that the program in Florida is working and will continue with the youth leading the way," said Thomas Philpot, the group's Escambia County chairman.
Helping teens in other countries
Nicole Payne, a Leon County member, wants to recruit and teach her peers beyond the county.
"We're working with Argentina," said the 12-year-old Swift Creek Middle School student, who will celebrate one year with SWAT next month. She is one of the group's youngest members.
The newly established relationship with South American youth is part of SWAT Without Borders, said Blanca Mesa, spokeswoman for Portanoveli, the New York-based advertising agency responsible for the TRUTH commercials.
She said there will be a bulletin board on the SWAT Web site, www.wholetruth.com, where members can post messages and precautions for youth around the globe.
"This will show kids that Philip Morris advertises as a good corporate citizen here in the U.S., but is poisoning youth in other countries," she said.
Package prepared for CEO
The group originally planned to have a news conference Friday for the finale of the 'Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is' campaign against the Philip Morris Companies Inc. However, the finale didn't go as planned because of Gov. Jeb Bush's Drug Control Summit, which coincided with the event.
Members packed a video tape, letters and more than 25,000 petition signatures into a huge box for Geoffrey Bible, the firm's chief executive officer. The group also requested the company donate its annual $100-million-plus advertising budget to charities rather than building up its image as a "good corporate citizen."
Holmes County representative Amy Nesbitt, 17, said SWAT aims to fight Phillip Morris' commercial messages.
"SWAT is about the manipulation of youth by the tobacco companies in ads," said the 11th-grader, who has been involved with the group since its first teen summit in 1998.
"They use sexy girls, show white teeth in (cigarette ads) . . . and kids say, 'Wow, I wanna look like that. Smoking is it.' These ads manipulate the minds of kids," she said.
Tobacco company executives aren't the only SWAT targets. Though North Florida tobacco growers are not happy with the group's efforts, Philpot, SWAT's chairman, said members are determined.
"Tobacco growers got upset, but that hasn't affected how our teens work in their communities," the 17-year-old Pensacola High student said. "That's the reason for our success."
Nate Chatman, a 17-year-old member from Okaloosa County, said peer teaching is the best tool against tobacco. There are up to 500 SWAT members in his county.
"Youth who are not SWAT members don't understand what the group is," he said. "We are currently doing research for a county ordinance to get all tobacco products placed behind store counters."
At the conference, members were introduced to street theater as a method of getting their anti-smoking message across.
"Street theater can be extremely effective," said Brian Graham-Jones, who along with Jose Blanco, conducted the workshop in a conference room full of excited teens. Both men have more than a decade of experience in bringing community and political issues to the forefront through artistic media. Jones said that SWAT members have to think about their audience and present themselves in a respectful manner.
"If done correctly, it gets a great response," Jones said.