Tahlequah is known for its beautiful parks, and on Thursday, area youth participated in an event to enhance that beauty and raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco use.
Nine of the county’s 12 Students Working Against Tobacco Teams gathered in Sequoyah City Park to pick up cigarette butts and enjoy the outdoors, as well as earn prizes and eat hot dogs.
Carol Choate, Community of Excellence Tobacco Control coordinator, said the first time they held the “Kick Butts” event, youth picked up 4,985 butts.
“We’re hoping we don’t get near that many this time,” said Choate. “When we gathered them up the first time, the students put them in a big jar and hauled it down to a city council meeting, and asked that an ordinance be passed to outlaw tobacco in the city parks, which passed.”
Choate said that today, thanks to a statewide law, all parks in Cherokee County are tobacco-free.
“Even our [city] golf course is tobacco-free,” said Choate.
The local event is part of a national campaign to empower youth to stand out, speak up and seize control against Big Tobacco. The national event is slated for Wednesday, March 20.
“We thought we’d have ours today, since March 20 is in the middle of Spring Break,” said Choate.
According to www.kickbuttsday.org, more than 1,000 events are planned in schools and communities across the U.S. and around the world.
On Kick Butts Day, teachers, youth leaders and health advocates organize events to raise awareness of the problem of tobacco use in the community, encourage youth to reject the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics, and urge elected officials to take action to protect kids from tobacco.
“Smoking kills more than 400,000 Americans each year, representing more death than from AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, drugs and fires combined,” said Choate. “Most of these deaths could be prevented.”
All youth received free T-shirts, and the student who picked up the most cigarette butts on Thursday was also rewarded with a cash prize of $25.
Coralie Dallis, Tenkiller sixth-grader, joined SWAT at the beginning of the school year.
“I got involved because my mom smokes, and I’d like to see her quit,” said Coralie.
Dean Goss, SWAT coordinator at Grand View School, said he had seven students participating in Thursday’s event.
“I grew up around smokers,” said Goss. “We’ve had a number of activities at school to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco use, and the response has been pretty good.”
At Grand View School, SWAT team members made 250 photocopies of a hand and displayed them to represent the number of people who die every hour as a result of tobacco use.
To find out more about Students Working Against Tobacco and the Cherokee County Communities of Excellence Tobacco Control Program, contact Carol Choate by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.