Teens learn how to help others say 'no'

Richard Walker
5/25/05

Tobacco summit highlights prevention

SWINOMISH, Wash. - Patricia Jefferson, Alisha Pierre and Jandy Pierre say
they know a lot of teens who smoke cigarettes. But you won't catch them
smoking. Why?

Not only does it "smell gross," but cigarettes have the same chemicals
found in batteries, toilet cleaners and rat poison, the girls said. And one
in three teen smokers die from the habit.

Patricia, Alisha and Jandy were three of 11 Lummi teens who attended
"Untold 4: Taking it to the Streets," a regional tobacco prevention summit
hosted by the Swinomish Indian Community May 14.

About 160 American Indian and non-Indian teens participated in the fourth
annual summit. Sponsors included the American Cancer Society, American Lung
Association of Washington, Lummi Indian Business Council, Swinomish Indian
Community, Upper Skagit Indian Tribe and area health departments.

Summit participants got a lot of help from a disc jockey, hip-hop group Mad
Crew and Seattle graffiti artist Angel. They discussed how to share
anti-smoking messages with peers and how to create events that appeal to
their communities - events that deliver healthy messages regarding tobacco
use. Workshop topics included "Branding Behaviors," "Street Marketing
Success," "Facts and Conversation" and "Street Mission."

Teens then took their ideas back to their communities, where they will
develop programs.

The summit began with a blessing song by Swinomish Vice Chairman Barbara
James and her family. "We appreciate that you have a willingness to be
here," James told the teens.

Teens said more of their peers are smoking. Some said stores don't ask for
identification, or young adults buy cigarettes and sell them to minors for
a profit.

All those interviewed said they attended the tobacco prevention summit to
learn techniques and how to help others say "no" to tobacco - or how to
quit if they smoke now.

"A lot of teens are smoking. We're trying to slow that down," said Harold
Foster, Lummi, of Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU).

"We started TATU in December. We meet every two weeks and are developing
workshops to take into elementary schools."

Harold said he tried a cigarette once, in fifth grade. "I hated it," he
said.

If someone was considering smoking a cigarette, they might be deterred by
the posters of brown teeth with receding gums, or blackened lungs, or young
people in hospitals on respirators, or the gravestone for a 36-year-old
smoker.

Tony Angelis is manager of the Upper Skagit Tribe's education department.
"They say they know it's bad for them," he said of teen smokers he's talked
to. "But it's hard to quit."

In an earlier statement, Atahualpa Martinez, tobacco health educator with
the Snohomish Health District, said teens would return to their communities
armed with ideas on how to turn the tide of teen smoking.

The summit comes at a time of need: Tobacco use among American Indians and
Alaska Natives in Washington state is 37 percent, compared with 22 percent
among all adults in the state, according to the American Indian Health
Commission for Washington state.

"Teens today are savvy and knowledgeable in ways that you and I never were
at that age," Martinez said earlier. "This event will arm them with the
information they need to become the vanguard in our efforts to steer their
peers in positive, healthy directions."

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash.
Contact him at irishmex2000@yahoo.com.

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