SYLVAN LAKE — There are limits to how much one Grade 7 student can do to keep another Grade 7 student from lighting up.
Delivering the message that smoking and chewing tobacco are addictive, ugly and dangerous is especially hard, given the subtle but effective marketing tactics that big tobacco companies employ to attract children to their products, says the Lung Association of Alberta and Northwest Territories.
That doesn’t mean you don’t try, said Grade 7 Lacombe student Jonny Boehme, one of 105 junior high students and teachers from across Alberta who have committed to a counterattack on the tobacco companies’ marketing efforts.
For the last three days, participants have been discussing strategies at a retreat on the north side of Sylvan Lake, hosted and paid for through BLAST — the lung association’s Building Leadership for Action in Schools Today program.
Schools from across the province were invited to set up teams, with one teacher and up to four students to attend the workshop and then take what they learned to implement anti-tobacco programs at their schools.
Teams are required to develop an action plan and budget, put their work into gear and then report back to the BLAST program, said Barb Borkent, a tobacco program specialist with the lung association.
For example, one team launched a postcard campaign, encouraging students to send postcards to the health minister explaining why flavoured tobacco should be banned.
Boehme was one of five students on the team coached by teacher Shelly Treleaven at Terrace Ridge School in Lacombe.
Boehme said he sought a spot on the team because he is working to develop his leadership skills and hopes to prevent as many of his peers as possible from getting involved with tobacco.
He said part of his motivation comes from the negative impact tobacco use would have on their ability to participate in sports.
Borkent said the workshops have a proven track record in helping schools set up their counterattacks on smoking and chewing.
Travel costs, accommodation and costs of hiring substitute teachers are all covered through a grant from Alberta Health Services, she said.
Recognizing that the program may attract participants who have already joined the fight against tobacco, there are also instances where the program intervenes with students who have tried smoking or chewing said Borkent, an ex-smoker who was nine years old when she picked up the habit.
Some schools have selected students who are already experimenting with tobacco.
“They usually become non-smokers (as a result),” she said.
The anti-smoking strategies and lobbying that have developed in the 16 years since the program was first launched have had a measurable impact on how tobaccos companies can market to youth, including development of a ban on flavoured cigarettes and a ban on power walls promoting tobacco projects, she said.
— copyright Red Deer Advocate