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Youth group will rake leaves to combat teen tobacco use

SIMCOE, ON, OCT. 12, 2007 – Armed with rakes, paper waste bags and some startling facts, members of the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s Youth Action Alliance will soon be out on area lawns alerting other young people to some alarming truths about tobacco use.

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, the teenage members of the alliance, also known as Fresh Heir, will conduct a “rake and run” event under the Halloween-inspired theme, “The Truth is Scary.” The teens will travel throughout Simcoe, stopping just long enough to rake the yards of homeowners who have agreed to offer their leaves to the group’s efforts, before moving on to the next destination. Collected leaves will be placed in bags adorned with facts about the tobacco industry’s targeting of youth as customers, a situation the group feels should be exposed to local youth. The message bags will be placed along the front edges of lawns where they can be viewed by people walking or driving through the neighbourhood.

“Young people are a vital demographic for the tobacco industry to try and reach with various marketing tactics,” stated Daina Atkinson, Peer Leader with Fresh Heir. “With 90% of regular smokers starting before they turn 20, the companies know that if they don’t have them hooked by then they likely never will. As young people, we think this predatory marketing is both offensive and unethical, and needs to be exposed.”

Many U.S.-based magazines popular with young people here in Ontario, including Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan, regularly feature tobacco advertisements. Similarly, the majority of PG-rated and PG-13-rated movies contain scenes of tobacco use, often in ways that glamorize the act. In fact, non-smoking teens whose favourite stars regularly smoked in movies were 16 times more likely to have positive attitudes about smoking.

“We realize that as a group we can never match the financial resources of the tobacco companies,” said Fresh Heir member Paul Misner, “but hopefully activities such as our rake and run will cause young people to start discussions with each other or their parents, or even to do some research to find out all the necessary details before deciding to use a tobacco industry product.”

“We get an opportunity to share important messages about the dangers of teen tobacco use and at the same time we get to help out some community members by raking their yards for free,” said Peer Leader Lucas Lubin. “Both sides get to walk away happy.”

Youth Action Alliances have been established in Health Units all across Ontario in an attempt to involve young people in reaching out and engaging their peers in tobacco control activities. Developing and implementing activities and events such as a cigarette butt clean-up, a car wash highlighting the benefits of a smoke-free car, and the current “The Truth is Scary” rake and run event, are all part of a strategy to create a generation of well-informed, engaged and healthy young people.

Media contact:
Josh Daley
Youth Advisor
Smoke-Free Ontario Program
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
519-426-6170 Ext. 3276 or 905-318-6623