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The tobacco industry is losing customers. Not only are more smokers quitting, every day, an estimated 1,315 people in the United States die because of smoking.
In response, the tobacco industry targets a new generation of potential nicotine addicts, which they call “replacement smokers.” A 1984 internal document from R.J. Reynolds, the makers of Camel, stated: “Younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers… If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline, just as a population which does not give birth will eventually dwindle.”
On Kick Butts Day, Levy County’s Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Clubs spoke up and took action to let Big Tobacco know they will not be replacements. Kick Butts Day was celebrated this year on March 19, and it is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ national day of activism that empowers youth to fight back against Big Tobacco. This year, Levy SWAT members participated in a statewide SWAT campaign called “Not a Replacement,” where they joined thousands of youth across Florida to declare to Big Tobacco that they are “Not a Replacement”. SWAT members and other youth have told tobacco companies that they are unique individuals, with the potential to make a positive impact on their community.
Youth across the state collected pictures of themselves, or “Selfie Statements,” where they declared why they are “Not a Replacement” for the people who die every day from tobacco-related causes. Levy SWAT members were very creative in their reasons for not being a replacement, citing reasons like athleticism, being a dreamer or leader, and free from addiction, among others.
Kayondrah Rogers, a SWAT member at Bronson High School, really liked the Kick Butts Day Not a Replacement campaign this year because she feels like it makes more of an impact than some of the other activities her school has done in the past. “It makes a statement – it’s not just [a display of] shoes or chalk outlines,” says Kayondrah, “it’s real people stating why they are making a difference and are not becoming just another statistic.”
Youth in Levy County and across Florida have shared their Selfie Statements through digital and social media as a reminder that they will not allow Big Tobacco to target them as replacements for the 1,300 lives lost each day in the United States from their products. Each county will now send a packet of their Selfie Statements to the tobacco company that originally authored the “replacement” quote, R.J. Reynolds.
For each smoking-related death, at least two youth or young adults become regular smokers each day.3 These young people rarely consider the long-term health consequences of smoking when they start. Because of nicotine, a highly addictive drug, three out of four youth continue smoking well into adulthood, often with serious and even deadly consequences. In fact, about half of long-term smokers will die prematurely from smoking-related causes.
“Events like Kick Butts Day help youth understand that they are the targets of the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Barry Hummel of the Quit Doc Research and Education Foundation, which coordinates the Tobacco Free Partnership and SWAT in Levy County. “Nothing is more eye-opening to a teenager than to realize that they are being manipulated into making a bad decision, a decision that will have life-long consequences. Sadly, teenagers still make up 85% of new tobacco users each and every year because of those impulsive decisions.”
“Youth have always been a target for the tobacco industry,” said Tobacco Free Florida Bureau Chief Shannon Hughes. “Numerous internal tobacco industry documents reveal that the tobacco companies perceived young people as an important target. They developed products, like flavored tobacco, and marketing campaigns aimed at teens.”
The fact is that nine out of 10 smokers start by age 18. If current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million U.S. children alive today who are younger than 18 years of age will die prematurely as a result of smoking.
ABOUT KICK BUTTS DAY
Kick Butts Day is a national day of activism that empowers youth to stand out, speak up and seize control against Big Tobacco. Kick Butts Day is organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and sponsored by the United Health Foundation. The first Kick Butts Day was held in 1996.
ABOUT TOBACCO FREE FLORIDA
DOH’s Tobacco Free Florida campaign is a statewide cessation and prevention campaign funded by Florida’s tobacco settlement fund.
Tobacco users interested in quitting are encouraged to use one of the state’s three ways to quit. To learn about Tobacco Free Florida and the state’s free quit resources, visit www.tobaccofreeflorida.com or follow the campaign on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TobaccoFreeFlorida or Twitter at www.twitter.com/tobaccofreefla.
DOH works to protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county and community efforts.