SIKESTON - According to the Centers for Disease Control, teens who smoke are three times more likely than nonsmokers to use alcohol, eight times more likely to use marijuana and 22 times more likely to use cocaine.
It's a problem the Southeast Missouri Cancer Control Coalition would like to see come to an end, which is why the group is inviting junior high and high school students in Sikeston and the surrounding areas to a motivational anti-tobacco rally set for 10 a.m. to noon April 6 at the Albritton-Mayer Cultural Center, 506 S. Kingshighway.
Maybe young people aren't aware of the repercussions or don't realize the poisons they're putting into their bodies. Some say they smoke because their friends do or it builds their self-esteem. Whatever their reasons for smoking, organizers are hoping the upcoming free event will shed some light on a habit many youths deem as tight.
The idea is not only to show the dangers, but to empower young people to fight against lighting up in the first place and to share that belief with others.
"Every year the coalition selects a project to work on and this year's project addresses youths and tobacco use. The coalition has worked with youths in different towns in the area like Benton," said Brenda Freed, a coalition member. "The youth groups are working on tobacco use prevention in their communities and schools such as radio, advertising, song writing and establishing a smoke-free dinning guide in the elementary schools. What we hope to bring to Southeast Missouri in the youth rally are new ideas for communities and schools to prevent the use of tobacco among teens."
Formed in 1990, the volunteer coalition was created to reduce cancer mortality through early detection and prevention in 17 counties of Southeast Missouri including Scott, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot and Stoddard.
The event will include anti-tobacco games, activities and prizes. Guest speakers will include Joyce Lara who has nine years experience in the tobacco prevention field. Employed with Northeast Tobacco Free Missouri, for which she is co-chairman of the coalition, she is also director of Smokebusters which is a group of young people who give tobacco awareness programs in their communities.
Employed as a chronic disease health educator with the Clark, Know, Scotland and Shelby County Health Departments, Lori Moots' major emphasis is in youth tobacco use prevention and cessation. She has worked with programs such as Teens Against Tobacco Use and Project Toward No Tobacco as well as projects with the Northeast Missouri Smokebusters, training over 250 youths in prevention.
Mary Ann Reed is a health educator with the Linn and Sullivan County Health Departments and primarily works in the areas of tobacco, nutrition and physical activity.
Presentations will also be given by area students who've taken the anti-tobacco campaign to their schools and communities.
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, more than 3,000 youths become regular smokers each day. Missouri rates for high school students in grades 9-12 are at 39 percent compared to the national average of 32 percent.
Also discovered was that 40.2 percent of high school students currently used tobacco products and a fourth (24.7 percent) had smoked a whole cigarette before age 13 in 1999.
"We hope that every community will take part in this rally," Freed said. "Something as simple as placing anti-tobacco stickers in windows will raise awareness against tobacco. I want those who come to leave realizing the importance of not beginning to smoke as a teen and to get ideas about things they can do in their schools and communities to help each other. It will be very good event, it's not going to be a lecture or putting anyone down, it's going to be fun and informative."
For more information on the rally contact Freed at 471-4044.