On March 19, kids across the country will show that the battle against the tobacco industry isn’t only fought in the courtroom, but on the playground.
The 19th annual Kick Butts Day, organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is a celebration of youth leadership and activism in the battle against smoking and tobacco marketing.
“Kick Butts Day is about raising awareness that tobacco is still a very serious problem, that it is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in our country and that the problem starts at a very early age,” said Vince Willmore, vice president of communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Almost all smokers start as kids.”
Schools and organizations across the country are encouraged to hold events to educate kids about the dangers of smoking and how tobacco marketing targets them. More than 1,400 events are planned.
Karla Evans of the anti-tobacco group, The Prevention Network, said she is going to Central Elementary in the Big Beaver Falls School District to tell students to stand up to the tobacco industry.
“I’m going to take in a punching bag that’s dressed up as a cigarette butt, and we’re going to let the students who are 4th and 5th graders kick the cigarette butt.”
The tobacco industry spends $8.8 billion per year in marketing. Willmore said much of the marketing is aimed at people under the age of 18, and that Kick Butts Day will “turn the tables on the tobacco industry, and say ‘we’re not going to take your deceptive marketing.’”
“Tobacco companies continue to portray smoking and other tobacco use as glamorous, sexy, rugged,” Willmore said. “When we know it’s the exact opposite. It’s going to make you sick and cause you to die prematurely.”
Though the percentage of youths who smoke cigarettes has decreased steadily since 1997, a January report by the Surgeon General found that 5.6 million U.S. children alive today will die from a smoking-caused disease, including 244,000 children in Pennsylvania.
Willmore said he hopes Kick Butts Day will influence legislative change.
“We’re asking elected officials to stand with kids by enacting policies like higher tobacco taxes, strong smoke-free air laws and well funded tobacco prevention programs,” Willmore said.