Teens say it’s no fun to be hooked
If there’s one message South Tahoe High School’s smokers would like to send to youngsters who look up to them, it’s “don’t start!”
“Those kids in middle school shouldn’t make the decision to smoke just because we do,” said tenth-grader Nancy McMillin, who’s been smoking for four years. “We’re addicted now and want to quit. I get really tired when I run – I have a cough that won’t go away. Believe me, it’s not cool.”
But McMillin said she hopes Thursday was a turning point for her.
At the off-campus mini-park near the school’s lower parking lot, she and more than 60 of her classmates took a pledge to quit as part of the Great American Smokeout.
Promoted by the American Cancer Society for more than 20 years, the Smokeout is a day each year when smokers and nonsmokers alike commit to keeping children and society smoke-free, said De-Anne Hooper, Health Educator for the El Dorado County Health Department.
To that end, smokers nationwide were asked Thursday to refrain from using any tobacco products for the day. For many smokers, it’s a day to prove to themselves that they can quit. In previous years, participation nationwide has approached 10 million.
But it was Assistant Principal Mark Romagnolo who brought the smokeout spirit onto the high school campus Thursday.
Using materials provided by the tobacco control section of the state health department, Romagnolo set up a table during lunch near the park where students could pledge to quit. By signing up, students received a toll-free smoker’s “helpline” phone number, and will receive phone calls and mailed materials to help them to kick the habit.
“Smoking is an issue among our students – we had access to the materials, we needed to give it a shot,” Romagnolo said. “A lot of kids sounded sincere – they could have chosen to cut down for a day, but quite a few really want to quit altogether.”
Statistics now show that each day more than 3,000 American adolescents smoke their first cigarette, and 90 percent of all new smokers are children and teens.
Ninth-grader Kelly Gautreaux has been a smoker for four years.
“I smoke about 10 to 14 cigarettes a day, and it’s very expensive. I’ve wanted to quit for the past year. Most cute boys – like snowboarders – don’t like smokers,” she said. “I’ve pledged to cut down to five a day first, then one less each day until I quit. I know I can do it.”
But quitting may be harder than Gautreaux thinks.
According to the American Cancer Society, 40 percent of teen-agers who smoke daily have tried to quit and failed. Among addictive behaviors, cigarette smoking is the one most likely to take hold during adolescence.
The risk of becoming addicted to nicotine is between one in three and one in two, while the risk of becoming dependent on the regular use of alcohol is one in nine, and crack or intravenous cocaine one in four.
Screams heard at the middle school
With an emphasis on prevention among younger adolescents, South Tahoe Middle School students joined their peers across the country Thursday in the annual “Great American Smoke Scream.”
“After watching a video on the risks of smoking, students screamed out for healthy lungs,” said Hooper, who participated in the event along with KTHO radio. “Sixty percent of smokers start before the age of 13, and 80 percent before they turn 18 – that’s why we’re trying to reach kids now – to make the choice early to be tobacco free.”
Sixth-grader Lindsey Doherty says she doesn’t think smoking is cool, even if movie stars do it.
“We’re screaming to be tobacco-free – you could hear it in all the classrooms,” Doherty said. “I’ve learned not to say yes to someone that offers me a cigarette – you have to just walk away. It’s bad for you, you can really get sick. I have two grandparents that are sick from smoking.”
Interestingly, ACS statistics show that most teens who smoke know their habit isn’t healthy – the knowledge of the long-term consequences of smoking is not proven to be very effective in deterring the behavior.
But for young teens who have never lit up, perhaps it’s best heard when it comes from those they look up to – those big, cool high school students.
“It’s hard on your health, like when you try to jog,” said Dan, a STHS junior and five-year smoker. “I’ve pledged to cut down. I’d like to tell kids that I wish I’d never started. Think for yourself and don’t let anyone tell you what’s cool.”
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