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Youth protest tobacco industry

SAM P.K. COLLINS | 4/18/2014, 10:13 p.m.
Joseph Yusef, 18, explains why music provides an escape from negative influences during a youth rally against tobacco products on March 19. Lexey Swall

The Washington Informer

(NNPA) – Hundreds of smokers in the district succumb to tobacco-related illnesses every year and accumulate millions in health care costs. A greater awareness about the adverse effects of smoking among young people hasn’t stopped tobacco companies from aggressively marketing its products to urban youth in recent years.

That’s why a group of local teenagers and young adults rallied against tobacco companies during a gathering last month at the Latin American Youth Center in Northwest. The hour-long rally, hosted by the Ward 1 & 2 D.C. Prevention Center counted among 1,400 events that took place across the country as part of Kick Butts Day, a national day of protest against the tobacco industry.

“Children all over the country always talk about how tired they are of the tobacco industry’s manipulation,” said Catherine Butsch, 26, communications manager at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Northwest-based advocacy group that also organized the March 19 rally. “This is a chance for children to talk to other children about tobacco use. Youth smoking is a big problem in this country and tobacco companies still market to children in convenience stores and magazines.”

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 3,200 youth across the United States under the age of 18 experiment with tobacco products every day. Even though cigarette use has declined among young people in recent years, other forms of tobacco like hookah and Black-and-Mild cigars, have steadily replaced traditional cigarettes as the products of choice. One out of 3 high school students also admitted using different forms of tobacco concurrently within the last month.

More than 5 million young people across the country, including 7,000 teenagers in the district, are expected to die prematurely from tobacco use, a reality that Dania Ramos, who started smoking as a youngster, said compelled her to kick the habit last year. She counted among 80 teenagers and young adults that displayed artwork, presented information about the adverse effects of smoking, and talked about what hobbies or interests help them maintain a tobacco-free lifestyle.

“I see a lot of tobacco and marijuana use in my community and it concerns me,” said Ramos, 17. “My curiosity lured me into that lifestyle at the age of 13. My friends supported me in my decision to quit and understood that it was something that I needed to do. It was hard to ignore the cravings at first but over time I broke the habit. These days, I feel much better,” said Ramos, a Northwest resident.

Bryonna Adams recalled instances when her mother, an occasional smoker, discouraged her from picking up the habit. She admits often feeling tempted to experiment, but said that reading has been an effective distraction from negative influences. Bryonna fostered a love of books at the age of 12. These days, she chooses to purchase her novels from Back Porch Thrift Store in Alexandria, Va., and read for hours on end instead of smoking cigarettes.

“Reading helps me go to another world,” said Bryonna, 16, a junior at Bell Multicultural High School in Northwest. “There are always a lot of people smoking and that makes you want to try it. I almost fell into the trap but decided to say no. Smoking is a filthy and boring habit. Reading is much better,” said Bryonna, a two-year member of LAYC who lives in Southeast.

Budding musician and producer Joseph Yusef recited a poem named One Day which expressed his hope that he would be able to eventually provide a comfortable life for his family. The father of a 1-year-old daughter said that his passion for music keeps his focus away from tobacco and drugs.

“When I’m making music, I’m in my zone,” said Yusef, 18. “I’m not thinking about smoking tobacco, getting high or drinking. I just want people to have an opportunity to listen to my work. I never tried tobacco because I always knew about the dangers of smoking it. I don’t want my daughter to see me smoking cigarettes. I want to be positive role model.”

While Yusef, a member of LAYC since 2013, thought the event went well. He said that more local youth need to hear messages against tobacco from their contemporaries.

“We need more youth speaking so that everyone can understand,” Yusef said. “If we heard from [more people our age] rather than adults, then I think that we would really get the picture.”