EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 11, 2010

Teens to teach peers about dangers of smoking

LAWRENCE — Jason Martinez shakes his head as he thinks of a friend who smokes cigarettes.

"It's disappointing to see that knowing tobacco and other drugs are harmful to them, they still do it," said Martinez, a junior at Central Catholic High School.

Saturday, Martinez, Gladyeliz Contreras and Julizabeth Cedano of the Keystone Club at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence and six members of the Health Promotion Club of the Health and Humanities High School on the Lawrence High School campus will attend a training program on how to bring awareness about the dangers of tobacco.

The students will join the 84 Movement, a program designed to teach Massachusetts youngsters about tobacco. The number 84 represents the percentage of teenagers in Massachusetts who choose not to smoke.

The Keystone and Health Promotion clubs are the first two groups in Greater Lawrence to join the 84 Movement, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and a project of Health Resources in Action.

Advertising of cigarettes on television and radio were banned on Jan. 2, 1971, when Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, yet smoking is still popular among teenagers, local leaders said.

"They do it because they think it's cool or are pushed by their peers," Contreras said. "When they start, they don't realize that they can get addicted."

Jackie Doane, community health support specialist at the Northeast Center for Healthy Communities, said more than 90 percent of adults who smoke started as teenagers.

"If we can limit young people's exposure and access to tobacco and counter the social norm that "everybody's doing it," we hope we'll be able to help prevent another generation of young people from becoming addicted to nicotine," Doane said.

Diane Knight, director of the North Essex Tobacco Free Community Partnership, agreed.

"It's very powerful to have them lead the way. If I go and talk to them about the harmful effects of smoking it is not as effective as them learning, sharing what they know with their peers. It has a greater impact," Knight said.

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