No 'butts' about it for these teens
Hutchinson students are kicking butts and taking names.
Through a pair of lunchtime demonstrations at Hutchinson Middle School-7 and Hutchinson High School on Wednesday – recognized as National Kick Butts Day – students involved in the Youth Leadership program with Communities That Care lobbied their peers to support antismoking initiatives.
At HHS, students were asked to lend their signatures to posters with a pledge that they won't become replacements for older smokers, while also listing reasons why they feel smoking should be limited to specific locations during the annual Kansas State Fair.
"We want this to be the last generation to smoke," said junior Walker Johnson, who was part of a group of 16 CTC students that traveled to Manhattan last week to pitch their ideas during a meeting of the Kansas State Fair board.
During the meeting, the students presented the board with a large bag containing 2,650 cigarette butts that were collected in one hour on a Monday at the fair in 2013.
"It was ridiculous," Johnson said of the haul.
Much smaller bags, collected last weekend around various parts of Hutchinson, were on display in the HHS cafeteria Wednesday. The largest came from around the intersection of Fifth and Monroe, where can be found both a liquor store and a gas station. Next in size were bags of butts gathered in Carey Park and outside an entrance to the fair.
"We just went to the golf course and walked around the parking area, and then we went to, like, a playground area," sophomore Aelora Tash explained of the cigarette-butt-hunting trip to Carey Park.
She and her fellow students are determined to see a decline in smoking, in general, and on the fairgrounds, in particular. With its dense crowds of visitors and vast outdoor spaces, escaping from the smell of cigarette smoke is often impossible, they said.
"Personally, I've walked through clouds of smoke," said junior Sarah Hansen, who admitted she was drawn to the cause as a way to protect vulnerable portions of the fair population. "It just kind of struck me that there are children and animals who are exposed to it. I feel how unpleasant it is for me and I just imagine how tough it must be for them."
Johnson said he has a friend who shows goats at the fair, and some have become sick after ingesting discarded filters.
"Goats will eat basically anything, or little kids will pick them up," Hansen said.
The students' plan for the fair includes five designated smoking areas they determined on their own by walking the grounds. The fair's current policy bars smoking in all buildings and in the grandstand, but implementing further restrictions would cut down even further the risk of second-hand smoke exposure. Plus, the students contend, the move would improve the overall environment at the fair.
"It definitely doesn't make the fair look nicer with cigarette butts trashed all around," Johnson said, noting that the items aren't biodegradable.
The posters signed Wednesday will be sent to the fair board, which last week asked for more time to ponder the issue. The students previously have collected more than 6,000 signatures on a petition to limit smoking at the fair.
Sondra Borth, executive director of Communities That Care and a former smoker of 22 years, said she hopes the influx of data they've presented will eventually persuade the board to see their side.
"Every amusement park has a smoking area, but at the Kansas State Fair we have to walk around and be exposed to that," she said.
In the meantime, she added, fair board members "still want more and more research, but (they've taken) no action."
When the board meets in Hutchinson in July, the students hope to make it back onto the agenda, and Borth said she'd like to step up efforts by providing updates to members every month.
"We're not giving up on the fair board," Johnson said.
Statistics presented to Hutchinson High School students during Wednesday's National Kick Butts Day event include:
- In Reno County, 20.1 percent of teens have smoked cigarettes.
- In Reno County, 11.24 percent of teens have used chewing tobacco.
- In Reno County, 94.51 percent of teens think smoking is harmful.
- In Reno County, 12.5 is the average age kids have their first cigarette.
- In the U.S., 800 million packs of cigarettes (roughly $2 billion in sales) are consumed by kids each year.
- Kansas adults who die each year from their own smoking = 3,800.
- American non-smokers who die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke = approximately 50,000.
- Kansas kids now under the age of 18 who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking = 54,000.
- Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined - and thousands more die from tobacco-related causes, such as fires caused by smoking (more than 1,000 deaths per year nationwide) and smokeless tobacco use.
- The tobacco industry spends nearly $10.5 billion a year, more than $28 million a day, on advertising to attract new customers.
- Since 1998, Altria (Philip Morris) has spent more on lobbying Congress than almost any other business.
By Ryan Christner - The Hutchinson News
Posted On Mar 18, 2015