Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
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DHSS -- Rita Manno and Marilyn Riley,
Fleishman-Hillard - Kerry Beth Daly,
McAfee, NJ, Nov. 19, 2000 - REBEL - Reaching Everyone By Exposing Lies - an initiative developed by and for teens to combat tobacco industry marketing tactics, was launched on November 18-19 at a youth summit in McAfee, NJ. More than 300 teens representing all of New Jersey's 21 counties met at the "Kick Ash Bash," where teams began to lay the groundwork for the movement, which will roll out to communities around the state over the next few months.
Participants in the youth summit, organized through the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), spent the weekend learning how the tobacco industry targets youth, as well as developing leadership and advocacy skills to fight tobacco industry tactics.
"In New Jersey we are committed to a long term youth-led campaign against tobacco," said Christine Grant, Health and Senior Services Commissioner. "Curbing tobacco use among teens will not be an easy task. This summit is just the beginning of a movement that will continue for many years."
DHSS created a unique recruitment process to select youth leaders from all corners of the state, representing a multiplicity of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and varying attitudes about smoking. Participants were selected from nearly 700 applications. These students, ranging from 14 to 17 years of age, were accompanied by 43 adult chaperones.
Multiple workshops, "Motivate," "Activate," "Communicate," and "Gyrate," provided teens an opportunity to work together to define and name their movement, to explore ways of communicating their message and to use music, dance, literature and art to educate others about the dangers of tobacco.
"We are really a mixed group - smokers and non-smokers, urban, suburban and rural kids," said Billy Bisson, Succasunna. "But we've all got one thing in common - we want to fight against tobacco executives who are targeting us and trying to get us to think smoking is cool."
A similar teen-led program in Florida has produced impressive results. In just two years middle school smoking rates decreased by 54 percent and high school smoking rates decreased by 24 percent.
This weekend's summit participants are the founding members of REBEL - Reaching Everyone By Exposing Lies - the name the youth chose for their movement to combat tobacco use. Following the summit, these teens will be working in their communities to create local advocacy action plans, and will officially launch this grassroots campaign in January.
Teens will work throughout the year with a state-funded youth mentor in each of New Jersey's 21 counties. Mentors are based in the Communities Against Tobacco (CAT) coalitions, grassroots organizations working with adult and youth community groups on prevention and cessation activities. The youth campaign and the CAT network are all components of New Jersey's $30 million Comprehensive Tobacco Control Program supported by funds received under the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry.
Youth participating in the summit will lead nine mini- summits across the state in 2001 to reinforce the momentum and recruit new teens for the movement. The DHSS has secured a $2.2 million, three-year grant from the American Legacy Foundation (Legacy) to fund these regional initiatives. Legacy is the national, independent, public health foundation established under the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).
Initiating this youth movement now is more critical than ever. Despite the recent ban on tobacco marketing to teens, the tobacco industry is continuing to target youth. It has significantly increased advertising in "adult" magazines with the highest teen readership, such as Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated.
Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in New Jersey, causing nearly 13,000 deaths and costing the state an estimated $1.7 billion each year. Even more alarming is the fact that youth comprise a disproportionate share of all new smokers. The 1999 New Jersey Youth Tobacco Survey shows that nearly two in five high school students and nearly one in five middle school students, had used tobacco products in the last month.
Research indicates that teens are more likely to respond to messages about the dangers of smoking and the manipulative tactics of tobacco companies when they come from peers. "It's time for young people to take action, and get real results. We're going to win the fight this time," said Melissa Woodward, Runnemede.
Youth tobacco use ultimately takes a heavy toll. More than 80 percent of current adult smokers became addicted before they reached the age of 18. Once addicted as teens, smokers find it hard to quit, and the health effects are more difficult to reverse.
The summit is part of a comprehensive initiative developed by the DHSS to promote tobacco prevention and cessation.
Recently, the state launched New Jersey Quitnet (www.nj.quitnet.com) and New Jersey Quitline (1-866-NJ-STOPS/1-886-657-8677). New Jersey Quitnet is an innovative online resource that provides a comprehensive, individually tailored smoking cessation plan. New Jersey Quitline is a hotline offering personal counseling to state residents six days a week. The services are open to all age groups. With New Jersey Quitnet, the Department of Health and Senior Services is particularly targeting young adult smokers, who are comfortable using Internet-based services.
For information about joining REBEL, call DHSS at 609-292-4414 or e-mail email@example.com.
EDITOR's NOTE: Teen spokespeople are available to speak with credentialed reporters. Please contact Kerry Beth Daly at 212- 453-2410 to arrange an interview. To reach a Department of Health and Senior Services spokesperson before Monday morning, contact Marilyn Riley at (609) 896-8094.