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September 30, 2009 > Keep your butts off our lips

Keep your butts off our lips

By Jamie Lopez and Gricelda Mendez

Summer is a time for outdoors, barbeques, to socialize with friends and relax. How can anyone enjoy a healthy summer's day surrounded by tobacco smoke? Adults try to set an example for young people despite the tobacco industry invading local communities.

In response, 10 youth from Hayward's Tennyson High School and one from Union City's James Logan High School joined forces this summer with a common goal. Under the guidance of Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center, they spent their afternoons fighting tobacco advertising in the City of Hayward. The 11-member Tobacco Youth Brigade (TYB) met on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, for two-and-a-half hours a day, for the past six weeks.

They learned about the harmful effects of smoking on the human body and on the environment. They also learned tobacco is of concern to the City of Hayward which passed an ordinance in June 2008 prohibiting smoking in public areas, including cars and front yards. The TYB met with Hayward city officials. Mayor Michael Sweeney, Council Member Anna May, Police Officer Mendoza and Police Lieutenant Boykins explained the consequences of not complying with the ordinance - a $50 fine per offense, and a misdemeanor charge after the third violation.

The youth decided it was their turn to act but only after group discussions about how to organize the community. Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center's adult advisors provided TYB with training on how to address business merchants, gather supporting evidence and understand how the tobacco industry works by studying the first lawsuit against tobacco companies.

TYB conducted two different surveys. First, visitors at one of the Downtown Hayward Street Parties and were asked note the types of advertising they see as they pass shopping centers or liquor stores. The second dealt specifically with store advertisements. TYB members visited supermarkets, liquor stores and gas stations in the Tennyson community and identified numerous incidences of tobacco advertisements and documented their findings.

After reviewing their findings, they devised and mailed a 10-point plan, a guide for merchants to become good business neighbors, to stores displaying multiple advertisements. Finally, they contacted stores, to which some of the 10 points are applicable, and encouraged them to continue their efforts to reduce tobacco advertising.

These activities inspired the young eleven community members to reach out and create their own anti- tobacco advertisements for display in stores and at school. Even though summer has ended, they are excited to continue to participate with the TYB throughout Fall 2009. TYB will conduct site visits to stores to see how its ten tips have helped to promote a healthier City of Hayward.

Tobacco use and advertising is an important issue for youth because they not only see the problem at school but also in their own homes. Although there are a few signs prohibiting tobacco use posted in their community, most are ignored and not enforced.

TYB members came to realize during the six-week program the tobacco industry has a stronger grip in their homes than previously acknowledged. It is difficult to see loved ones smoke. Youth witness this all the time.

"I joined this summer program to learn more to help my mother quit smoking and live a healthier life," said TYB member Tyisha Mitchell-Howard.

It also became apparent to TYB that advertisements in local stores target the younger generation. TYB members do not want to grow up in a community of smokers.

"Under-age smoking is getting out of control," Milkhais Haile stated in outrage.

"Some stores don't have much advertising but what they have is at child's-eye level," noted Petesia Lewis.

TYB was formed because its members believe that less tobacco advertising will help reduce the number of young people who take up smoking and avoid the consequences of poor health. Always remember: HEALTH IS POWER.

TYB consists of Tennyson High School 12th graders Andres Cobian, Isela Dominguez (11th grade), Florisse Gutierrez, Milkhaise Haile, Petesia Lewis, Jamie Lopez, Gricelda Mendez, Tyisha Mitchell-Howard, Jahshe Nelson (10th grade), Yesenia Sanchez (James Logan High School, 10th grade) and Daniel Zavala.

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