Hazards of lighting up
Teen input wanted for anti-smoking campaign

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Jan 21/00) - Some figures recently released by Health Canada are scary, to say the least.

There are 4,000 chemicals in a cigarette, 50 of which are known to cause cancer. Among the chemicals are acetone, mercury, lead, nicotine, phenol, the insecticide known as DDT, cadmium (used in car batteries) and arsenic.

A pack of cigarettes smoked per day over the course of a year amounts to taking in a litre of tar.

Susan Ashton, program specialist for the Canadian Public Health Association, NWT division, said a study released last month indicates every cigarette smoked takes 11 minutes off a person's life.

A carton equates to a day-and-a-half less to live, she added.

Half of all smokers can expect to die prematurely from smoking.

Despite the daunting statistics, the number of youth smokers has been rising over the past few years, Ashton said. Part of her mission is to consult with teens and use their input to devise an effective anti-smoking campaign for adolescents. She was in Fort Simpson to do just that last Thursday and Friday.

Within the next year, the territorial government is planning develop promotional products -- such as a series of commercials that the students critiqued -- based on the outcome of meetings with teens in Fort Simpson, Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Inuvik, Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk and Rae. She's also been reminding youths of the hazards of smoking.

"It's amazing how much they do know, but you can keep adding to that, reinforcing," she said.

For example, stated another way, the fact that 45,000 Canadians die from smoking each year is even more troubling. "When I say 'That's the population of the NWT dead each year,' that really hits home to them," she explained.

On Thursday, she had met with students ages 10-13 years old. They designed posters based on the theme "smoke-free homes."

"They came up with some pretty cool ideas," Ashton said, pointing to their handiwork.

On Friday, three high school students showed up for the workshop completely voluntarily -- on a day when the teachers' strike meant there was no school. They suggested that the hard-hitting advertisements have the most effect. A poster with graphic depictions of people suffering from smoking-related cancers and heart disease was an image that stuck with them, they said.

Gabe Byatt, a Grade 11 student, recommended that the warnings on cigarette packages more dramatic. Not "cigarettes may kill you," but instead, "cigarettes may cause a very painful death and lead to parts of you being severed," he said.

Ashton had made a page full of suggestions by the time the afternoon drew to a close.

"This is really helpful," she said, as she jotted down one more piece of advice from the trio.

Grade 10 student Allyson Skinner, the only smoker who participated on Friday, said she didn't feel self-conscious about her habit.

"I was fine with it. I wasn't being preached at ... it was a good experience for me," she said, adding that the concept of the workshop was a sound one and she was hoping to discover new ways to quit.

"I think they should get (input) from the people they're targeting. (Students) know what works best for them."