Middle schoolers in La Crosse are trying to empower their peers and warn them about a new tobacco industry's marketing campaign that targets youth.
Students from the La Crosse Design Institute (LDI) and members Fighting Against Corporate Tobacco (FACT) campaign held a rally at Longfellow Middle School Thursday morning as part of "Kick Butts Day."
Event organizers say the tobacco industry’s new advertising campaign makes their products look and taste like candy.
"The age for youth smoking begins at age 11, so this is the prime group that we want to reach out as they're transitioning into middle school, which is such a tough time," said Judi Zabel, a health educator with the La Crosse County Health Department. "We want to arm them with ammunition so they’re able to discern what’s tobacco, what’s candy and how to say no."
Teens leading the rally say they hope their message to stay away from those products and the tobacco company’s manipulating message is being heard.
"With middle and high school students in particular, I feel they don't really like to listen to adults and if it's coming from one of your peers—a person that you’re with all the time—you’re gonna believe it more," said 8th grader Sophia Nystrom. "They're gonna listen more."
Zabel says youth smoking rates have declined significantly. She said in 2000, 25-percent of kids smoked cigarettes. That’s now dropped to 13-percent. Zabel hopes organizations like FACT continue to make a difference and empower teens to make good, healthy choices.