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October 12, 2000

Winnebago County Teens to Assist with Anti-Tobacco Campaign

ROCKFORD -- Governor George H. Ryan announced today that Winnebago County teenagers will assist the Illinois Department of Public Health in a year-long effort to develop a statewide anti-tobacco campaign aimed at young people.

The anti-tobacco campaign will be part of First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan's "Futures for Kids" initiative and will be one of the three major components of the state's overall strategy to prevent smoking and the use of tobacco that is being funded by the 1998 court settlement with the nation's tobacco companies.

"If we're going to convince young people not to smoke, then we have to have young people involved in the process from the very beginning," Ryan said. "The teens from throughout Winnebago County who will be assisting the Department of Public Health have a very important job in front of them. The future health of their friends and the well being of young people across the state is at stake. I applaud all of them for dedication to the future -- to their futures."

"The intent is to build a tobacco prevention and cessation program designed, developed and initiated by teens," Dr. John R. Lumpkin, state public health director, said at a Rockford news conference. "If we are to save this generation from the health risks associated with smoking, the time to fight back is now. More than 80 percent of all adult smokers say they started before age 8, but studies show if people do not begin to smoke as teenagers or children, it is unlikely they will ever do so."

Using $3.9 million from the 1998 tobacco settlement, the program will engage young people throughout the county to create a comprehensive and effective anti-smoking campaign, Dr. Lumpkin said. The other two major components of the state's anti-tobacco strategy are $10 million in grants provided to local health departments and $10 million awarded to the Illinois State Board of Education.

As a first step in Winnebago County, a teen advisory panel made up of 17 middle and high school students from throughout the county has been formed and a special brainstorming summit meeting of between 200 and 300 teens will be held at the Rockford MetroCentre on Oct. 23 and 24. The two-day event is designed to educate and empower the youth to create and lead a movement against tobacco use. Youth experts from other states will provide insights, and workshops will be held on advocacy, special events, advertising, media and selecting an identity for the campaign.

Lessons learned from the summit will be used to formulate television, radio, billboard and other media buys, as well as special events, exhibits and recruitment of other teens to join the anti-tobacco movement.

Flyers urging teens to apply to participate in the summit have been distributed to Winnebago County school districts and have been handed out at football games and other places where teens gather. The Department will select teens for the summit to ensure there is a geographic-urban and rural-and ethnic balance.

Dr. Lumpkin said Winnebago County was chosen for the anti-tobacco initiative because of the county's racial mix; the contained news media market, which includes all four major television networks; and the enthusiasm and willingness of school and elected officials in the county to participate. The Department has been working with the Regional Superintendent of Schools Office, school superintendents from throughout the county, elected officials and other groups to organize the effort.

"Young people perceive signals -- including peers and sibling who smoke, visible public smoking, smoking glamorized on television and in movies, the availability of cigarettes to minors and the widespread promotion of tobacco products -- that make smoking appear to be the norm," Dr. Lumpkin said. "This effort will enable us to provide young people with the tools they deem necessary to resist the social influences to smoke and prevent what can easily become an addiction."

It is estimated that more than 60,000 Illinois teenagers take up smoking each year. A third of those young people are destined to become regular smokers who will eventually die as a result of their smoking. Tobacco use is responsible for more than 20,000 deaths each year in Illinois, or one in every five deaths, and is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the nation. It is well documented that smoking can cause chronic lung disease, coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as cancer of the lung, larynx, esophagus, mouth and bladder.

Dr. Lumpkin said that the younger a person begins smoking, the greater risk for developing smoking-related illnesses. Teen smokers suffer a number of adverse health effects including a general decrease in physical fitness; increased coughing and phlegm; greater susceptibility to and severity of respiratory illnesses; early development of artery disease, a possible precursor of heart disease; and a slower rate of lung growth that, by adulthood, could possibly reduce the level of normal lung function.

More than one-third (34 percent) of Illinois high school students in grades 9 through 12 reported that they had smoked a cigarette in the previous 30 days, according to the most recent state survey data (1999, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Survey). Nationally, 34.8 percent of high schools students said they smoked a cigarette in the past month.


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