Local News

Peer Testimonials Aim To Snuff Teen Smoking

Posted July 21, 2004

— Put a cigarette in your mouth and you add a risk factor for a host of deadly diseases -- cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular disease to name a few.

A new campaign aims to stop kids from lighting up.

Each year in North Carolina, 24,000 kids become new smokers. The facts may not change their minds, but one group hopes personal stories might.

Rachel Biddix began smoking as a teenager.

"I was 17 and didn't know any better," she said. Forty years later, Biddix lost her voice to throat cancer.

"I'm alive and I have a new purpose in life," she said.

Biddix' new purpose is to scare young people away from cigarettes.

"I get to talk to the young people and, maybe -- just maybe -- I might save a life," she said.

If teens do not listen to Biddix, the hope is maybe they will listen to someone their own age.

"Over 200,000 kids alive in North Carolina today will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. What's it going to take?" said Suzie Niederland during her audition for a television ad campaign.

Niederland and others auditioned for the chance to let others know smoking just is not acceptable anymore.

"Why would you want to waste your life and have other people suffer for your faults," Niederland said.

Tobacco Truth Unfiltered is a statewide effort that attacks smoking with true teenage testimonials.

"A lot of people at my school, they smoke and they're just, like, it's a cool thing to do," said Portia Cannady, who also auditioned.

"We know that roughly 50 percent of people who begin smoking in their teen years will become smokers as adults," said Mike Ezzel, of the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund.

Very few people start smoking after age 20. That is why the group is aiming young, hoping for a "Lucky Strike" against the teenage tobacco culture.

Research shows it is harder to convince teens smoking is not cool when they see their favorite celebrities smoking.

Researchers followed 2,600 middle schoolers for two years. They found kids who watched R-rated films were more likely to start smoking than kids who did not watch the movies.

The researchers say smoking is more often shown in R-rated movies than films rated G or PG.

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