Greencastle-Antrim Middle School students stand up to big tobacco

Sixth-graders Ryder Hawbecker, dressed as Ciggy, and Taylor Appenzellar mingled with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at lunch during Kick Butts Day. They urged students not to smoke, that ‘Hugs Before Drugs’ was better.

The 20th Annual Kick Butts Day did not go unnoticed in Greencastle this year. G-A middle school students took on a leadership role to positively influence students at the elementary school.

The  26 sixth, seventh and eighth graders were members of TRU Club, formed earlier in the year as part of the Tobacco Reduction Unit movement. Managed by Pennsylvania Alliance to Control Tobacco, and American Lung Association of Pennsylvania, a more local group brought the program to Greencastle-Antrim Middle School.

Stacey McCole, representing Healthy Communities Partnership of Greater Franklin County, approached the school about a TRU club. She met with interested students, and they were involved in several activities to spread awareness about tobacco. They chose to present a program to others on March 18 in conjunction with the national observance.

The adolescents had displays for the younger crowd, showing the unhealthy results of smoking or chewing tobacco. They shared information about chemicals in the products, and gave away TRU prizes. Each elementary student also had the opportunity to add graffiti to the “I am not a replacement” banner, declaring they would not replace the 480,000 people who died in the United States each year from the complications of tobacco use.

Sixth-grader Laci West said she had learned tobacco could give people lung cancer.

Classmate Brandon Sidoli was aware of the marketing tactics tobacco companies directed at youth.

“All the packaging looks like it is good for you, but it really isn’t,” he said.

Guidance counselor Fred Yelton said school administrators decided the target audience should be the elementary school.

“Younger kids always look up to bigger kids,” he said.

TRU Club made posters and wrote announcements to promote the event. They hope their message can reduce a statistic by the time the lower grades get to G-AHS. Currently, studies show that over 18 percent of Pennsylvania’s high school students smoke.