YOUNGSTOWN Teen hates tobacco use: Is it personal? You bet
The young woman is also worried about an uncle who is dying of lung cancer and her mother who still smoke tobacco.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR HEALTH WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The gritty new anti-tobacco ads that hit area airways this month are very personal to Chaney High School junior Andrea N. Burton, because she had a voice in their hard-hitting message, and due to the deaths of her father and grandfather from lung cancer.
Andrea's father, Robert Jennings Jr., died in January 2002; and her grandfather, Robert Sr., in August 2001.
"They both began smoking at the same age as I am now. Now, I don't have a father and a grandfather," said the 16-year-old.
"That's not fair, but that's reality. It's hard to accept. You go to sleep and ... sometimes you just lay awake and say, 'If only the tobacco industry had put the word out earlier,'" she said.
Despite her devastating losses, cancer may not be done with Andrea and her family.
She said she has an uncle who is dying of lung cancer, and she is very worried about her mother, Dawn Burton-Jennings, who is a smoker.
"I get on her case all the time. I tell her the statistics. I tell her I don't want to be parentless. But, you have to understand she's been smoking since she was 14. I used to nag her, but it didn't seem to work. But, yes I get on her," Andrea said.
Andrea, of Volney Road, was active in school anti-tobacco activities before her father and grandfather died. She is also president of the French Club at Chaney and a member of Students Against Drunk Driving and Caring Cowboys, a volunteer group that does service projects.
Her involvement in the STAND Teen Panel is intensely personal because of the deaths in her family.
"I just want to make sure no other 16-year-old has to go through this, so that other people won't have to lose family," she said.
Andrea applied to be on the STAND Teen Advisory Panel at the urging of her seventh- and eighth-grade honors teacher, Penny Wells, who in junior high school got Andrea involved in the Youth for Justice program.
The STAND anti-tobacco campaign is a project of the Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation, which was created by the Ohio General Assembly in 2000 and is funded with the national master settlement agreement between tobacco companies and 46 states, including Ohio.
Andrea wrote an essay about why she wanted to be a member of the STAND Teen Panel and gave it to her teacher for review. Andrea said Wells sent the essay back and told her she could do better and to rewrite it, which she did.
As a result, Andrea was selected to be one of 52 students from across the state on the STAND teen panel. The panel members, ages 14 to 18, met in April in Columbus and July in Cleveland, when they presented their ideas for the STAND campaign on how to get the word out about smoking.
"To me, you could compare the STAND teen panel to the civil rights movement of the '60s, because we're doing revolutionary work. It's some of the most talented kids in Ohio," she said.
Andrea, who said neither she nor any of her friends smokes, said she had anti-tobacco feelings before when she was involved in Youth for Justice.
Why kids smoke
She said Ohio middle school pupils' tobacco use is higher than the national average by 68 percent; and that if the current trend continues, 238,000 Ohio youths now under 18 will die from smoking later in life.
And, she said, the tobacco industry doesn't seem to care.
When asked why the percentage of Ohio teens who smoke is higher than the rest of the nation, Andrea put the blamed on a number of things, including the high crime rate and corruption in government.
"Teens here are not brought up in a stable environment. People smoke in schools, and kids grow up in households where people smoke. So, kids say, 'Why not me?'" she said.
Further, Andrea said, the tobacco industry puts perfect super models with perfect teeth on TV and smoking seems cool.
Andrea believes a straightforward, truthful advertising campaign, with language that young people understand, can persuade teens to stop smoking or not even start smoking.
"Put commercials out there and draw a big crowd in. I'm crude. I think the best way is to show what is going to happen. The commercials will work, because they are not lying to you. You watch it on television and in real life," Andrea said.
Andrea says she sees a lot of things as a volunteer in the oncology department at Northside Hospital. She told of a man with a malignant growth on his face from chewing tobacco.
"It's just so awful. This could happen to your kids or to you. You're gonna be dead. That's the reality of it," she said.
"Statistics are the hard truth. The reality is what is right there. As a member of the teen panel, I can turn on the TV and see the commercial that I helped create. I can look in the mirror and know its real," Andrea said.
Teens really are the future. That's what STAND realizes, she said.
"I just gotta keep going. We have to make it right for other people. It's not myself, it's about everyone else. The message is you can live without tobacco or other lame substances. They are taking away your life or somebody else's life," she said.