Youth smoking targeted
THE WOODLANDS, Texas â€“ About 200 teenagers headed home Wednesday from a three-day conference to spread their anti-smoking gospel.
"It is time to go out and show big tobacco we've taken back our choices, our future and our very lives," said Trent Weaver, a high school senior from DeKalb. "The tables are turned, and we're in control."
The students are now armed with results of a 1-year-old campaign that shows tobacco use has dropped by as much as 40 percent among some East Texas middle school students.
According to research from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Baylor College of Medicine, tobacco use plummeted 40 percent among about 5,000 sixth- and seventh-graders exposed to the campaign and other programs.
The centerpiece of the anti-smoking campaign is a duck.
An animated, hip-talking, sunglasses-and-cap-wearing duck is featured on a Web site and in commercials and school presentations in East Texas, primarily on the Houston-Galveston, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Tyler-Longview and Bryan-College Station markets.
The target audience is young people between the ages of 11 and 18, with particular emphasis on middle-school kids. Research shows sixth-graders are at the highest risk for starting to use tobacco.
"It's our own counter to Joe Camel, and it's been really successful," said Dr. Philip Huang, chief of the Texas Department of Health's bureau of chronic disease and tobacco prevention. "The duck is working."
He said in Jefferson County, which includes Beaumont and Port Arthur, market research data showed cigarette sales down 21 percent, compared with 10.5 percent for the rest of the state.
The program comes from money the state health department received as part of 1998's $17.3 billion settlement reached with tobacco companies sued by the state to recover costs of treating sick smokers.
The duck program came out of $9 million earmarked for a study to determine the most effective ways to prevent tobacco use and promote cessation.
The idea for the duck was spawned a year ago at a conference similar to the one this week by the Texas Statewide Tobacco Education Program at The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center. After 2,000 suggestions, the group settled on the duck as its mascot. The health department then hired an Austin advertising firm, Tuerff-Davis EnviroMedia, to develop the campaign.