A local organization has been busy raising awareness about the problem of underage smoking and the harmful effects tobacco has on minors.
Through local surveys, educational presentations at schools and community organizations, and health booths at local events, the Pico Rivera Alliance to Keep Youth Tobacco-Free is calling on residents and leaders to protect young people from the dangers of early tobacco addiction.
Four student members of the group last month flew to the State Capitol in Sacramento to rally against the tobacco industry’s impact on the environment and human health.
Samantha Ruiz and Jesus Avila of El Rancho High School, Ashley Martinez of Ruben Salazar High School, and Thomas Smith of the Southern California Alcohol and Drug Program’s youth counseling group joined hundreds of other teenagers around California for the 13th annual Youth Quest March 26.
With the theme “Tobacco: Always Mean, Never Green,” the event brought youth advocates from across the state to learn about the pollution caused by tobacco farming, production and smoking. The event also included legislative training, a rally and a press conference.
“I learned that 10 million acres of land are currently used for growing tobacco plants. With 25 million pounds of pesticides sprayed on them each year, the soil is left unfit for planting new food crops,” Avila said. “Farmers have to wait three more years before they could plant again.”
“As an animal-lover, it is frustrating for me to know how tobacco plantations take away the natural habitat of poor animals,” Martinez added. “I honestly did not know that when you smoke cigarettes, it takes seven minutes out of your life. That’s a lot of minutes if you think about how some people smoke one pack each day.”
Prior to Youth Quest, the local alliance put together a booth at El Rancho High School showing a large dummy cigarette containing popular household products with chemicals also found in tobacco smoke. Set in time for Kick Butts Day on March 21 — a nationwide initiative that makes young people try to stop tobacco use among their peers — El Rancho High senior Lynette Haro showed her school mates bottles of toilet cleaner, rat poison, disinfectants, formalin, acetone, tar, lighter fuel and moth balls, among others.
“The students were really surprised to find out about the tobacco smoke ingredients,” she said. “It was truly enlightening for them. I think this event made a positive impact on them and hopefully they can influence their friends in a positive manner.”
According to the California Youth Advocacy Network, a cigarette contains 600 harmful chemicals and the cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000, many of which are known to cause cancer.
According to statistics, tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people every year.
Every day, more than 4,000 young people try their first cigarettes. Another 1,000 become addicted smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.
The local group surveyed 400 adult residents from July to December 2011 and 50 percent believed that it is easy for minors under 18 to buy tobacco products from stores within the city, which caused the group to reach out to the El Rancho Unified School District’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative.
The group has done presentations with Angel Step Inn Youth and Family Services, Southern California Alcohol and Drug Program, Pico Rivera Seventh-day Adventist Church and the El Rancho High School Associated Student Body.