By Joel Hall
According to the Clayton County Board of Health, 3,500 children each day in the U.S., under the age of 18, try smoking for the first time and many of those will eventually die from smoking-related diseases.
On Wednesday, national "Kick Butts Day," the Clayton County Adolescent Coalition - a consortium of local youth development organizations - and the board of health took a visual and vocal stand against smoking with an all-day celebration.
At 10 a.m., several seventh-graders from Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Jonesboro kicked off "Kick Butts Day" with a balloon release at the board of health headquarters. Jamie Carlington, public information officer for board programs, said 2,000 similar events were staged across the country as a way for young people to speak out against the tobacco industry.
"We have to take a more proactive role in educating people about the dangers of smoking," said Carlington. "What we're finding out is that kids who start smoking in middle school and high school, that lends them to a greater chance of dealing with more chronic diseases. It also lends them to trying more harder drugs when they get older.
"They [the balloons] are symbolic of us taking our fight against tobacco use to a new level," she added. "The earlier you educate people, the less you have to deal with the consequences later on."
In addition to the balloon release, the group Teens Actively Determining their Destination, a youth peer advocacy group funded by the board of health, as well a members of the Clayton County Adolescent Coalition, unveiled "The Wall that Kicks Butts" at the Clayton County Headquarters Library in Jonesboro.
The wall, which will stay on display in the library lobby through the rest of the week, contains graphic visual aids detailing the long-term effects of smoking and tobacco use. Among the displays are pictures and three-dimensional models illustrating advanced gum disease, throat cancer, emphysema, oral cancer, lung cancer, and fetal damage caused by smoking.
Ladedra Walthall, 17, a Forest Park High School student and a member of T.A.D.D., believes the visual aids will strike a chord with young people.
"A lot of teenagers are big on how they look and they don't know that smoking can do all these things to your body," she said. "I know a lot of teens who smoke, but if they knew better, they would do better."
The wall also contains a large space in which passersby are able to write down their true feelings about smoking and how it impacts their lives.
Suzette Antoine, a Clayton County 4-H programs assistant, hopes that the wall will leave an impact on people and serve as catharsis for those whose lives have been impacted by smoking.
"For those people who have lost a loved one or have been affected by smoking, I hope that it can let them be expressive," she said. "Hopefully it will be a place for people's thoughts ... to make them stop and think."
On the net: www.kickbuttsday.org