Summit targets teen smoking
A full-scale attack to curb teen-age smoking appears to be working, but state and private health advocates aren't letting up this summer.
Figuring out new ways to curb tobacco, drug and alcohol use will be among the subjects discussed at Youth Summit 2000 on Saturday at California State University, Northridge.
The public event is expected to draw more than 300 students and will be bolstered by a survey released this week by the state Department of Health Services, which found that about 6.9 percent of children ages 12 to 17 in 1999 smoked, down from about 10.7 percent the year before.
"The main purpose of the summit is to encourage the kids to make a difference in their own neighborhoods with the knowledge they get here," said Albert Melena of the San Fernando Valley Partnership, which organized the event.
"It's important to raise awareness about tobacco and other drugs now that summer is here and kids will have more time to hang out at parties where drinking and smoking goes on," said Barbara Bloomberg, who heads an anti-drug program for the county Office of Education.
Younger and older anti-tobacco advocates have found a number of creative ways to spread their message -- from new legislation affecting sales to arts and education programs aimed at degrading smoking. They've been helped by funds from 1988's Proposition 99, which imposed a tax of 25 cents per pack of cigarettes and funds the programs. Additional funding has come from passage last year of Proposition 10, which imposed an additional tax of 50 cents per pack.
Nearly $4 million is being funneled to the Los Angeles Unified School District this month from tobacco tax money.
Joyce Fernandez, a peer counselor, teaches the effects of smoking to other students and has had a good response.
"Some of them get a lot out of it," said Fernandez, who is entering her senior year at James Monroe High School in North Hills. "Sometimes they didn't know before that you can get emphysema or throat and lung cancer from smoking."
Michelle Obregon, an art teacher at Monroe, believes students are catching on to the pitfalls of smoking.
"The kids are getting the message of what cigarettes can do to you," said Obregon, who supervised 15 students painting an anti-smoking "Don't Be a Butthead" mural on campus.
The mural pokes fun at advertising characters such as the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel by putting their heads on drooping cigarette butts in a big ash tray.
"Maybe some kids will see this and they won't think it's so cool to start smoking," said Jesus O. Lopez, 18, who designed the mural. "Kids mostly smoke to try and look cool, but it's changing."
Obregon thinks the creative activities are one main reason the number of students smoking is going down.
"The program is getting through," she said. "Kids are much more aware of health risks than they were 10 years ago, and they're smoking less."
But it may be that teen-agers simply are having more difficulty getting tobacco products.
The city this summer is taking an aggressive stance on sales, requiring tobacco sellers to remove countertop displays and apply for sales permits.
By using undercover stings, the city will be able to suspend the free license of any business caught violating sales laws.