Students fight smoking

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 1, 2004

Selma’s youth wants to stop the spread of cigarette smoking – one butt at a time.

April 5 is Kick Butts Day in Selma. According to Selma City Councilwoman Nancy Sewell, area high schools will participate in several activities designed to stop students smoking, including signing petitions and picking up cigarette butts.

“Hopefully, that will make an impact,” Sewell said. “They’re really targeting Bloch Park, where people are allowed to smoke.”

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March 31 is National Kick Butts Day, but Selma will hold its day on Monday because city schools are currently out on spring break. “On Kick Butts Day, kids are standing up against the tobacco companies, and it’s important that elected officials stand with them by supporting proven tobacco prevention measures,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the campaign for tobacco-free kids. “States can prevent kids from smoking and protect everyone from the toxic substances in secondhand smoke by properly funding tobacco prevention programs, increasing tobacco taxes and enacting strong smoke-free workplace policies.”

Selma’s Youth-and-Government Mayor Jessica Willis previously spoke to the council about amending its smoking ordinance. Willis told the council that Youth-and-Government members wanted the council to forbid smoking in any sports arena and raise the fine for violating the ordinance.

Pam Bostick of the American Cancer Society also spoke to the council. Bostick said she wanted the council to improve its ordinance to include restaurants and recreational facilities as non-smoking areas.

On Monday, members of Youth-and-Government, the American Cancer Society and Americorps will partner to educate youth about the dangers of smoking. “We’re targeting high schools,” Sewell said. “Some have already begun the habit.”

As school opens on Monday, Americorps members and students will man booths and hand out literature about smoking. They’ll also ask students to sign a pledge on a scroll hanging from school walls.

“It not only affects the smoker, but also the families and friends,” said Gwendolyn Cleveland, administrative assistant with Americorps. “Anything we can do to encourage people to stop is a good thing. It’s our civic obligation.”

At 3 p.m. the scrolls will be brought to City Hall. Students will then don gloves and masks before hitting target areas with trash bags to pick up cigarette butts. “They’re picking up cigarette butts to make a statement,” Sewell said.

Target areas include the Selma Mall, Wal-Mart, Bloch Park and public areas.

According to Myers, 25.5 percent of Alabama high school students smoke and 13,000 children become daily smokers each year. Tobacco kills 7,400 Alabamians a year and costs the state $1.17 billion for health care. More than 400,000 people in America die each year due to tobacco, which costs more than $75 billion for health care.

“Selma is a historic city,” Sewell said. “The nation looks to our city, and we can send a message that we’re against smoking.”