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SWAT > News and Events > Phoenix Tour > The Gainesville Sun

Anti-tobacco group hits area streets

By CHRISTINA STUART
The Gainesville Sun

June 9, 2004


Students Working Against Tobacco member Kevin Pate, left, smiles at a driver who honks and waves in support of the group's signs against "Big Tobacco" on Tuesday. Other SWAT members Steven L. Schneitman, Jr., middle, and Jenna Schneitman, Steven Pate (not shown) and Joy McIntosh, (not shown) also stand on the median of Newberry Road in front of The Oaks Mall.
The group of Suwannee High School students and recent graduates is on a 16-county tour through Florida to educate people about the dangers of smoking.

Although his arms ached and sweat dripped down his face, Steven Schneitman Jr. held his sign high in the air for all to see. "I really hope this makes people think about how many people die from tobacco," Schneitman said. As cars whipped by, some drivers honked and waved while others yelled sarcastic remarks. One driver held out an unlit cigarette and asked, "You got a light?"

Schneitman, only a few years out of high school himself, joined by his wife, Jenna, and three Suwannee County high school students, were on a mission. The five anti-tobacco advocates, along with a videographer, stood in the center median of Newberry Road in front of The Oaks Mall on Tuesday during rush hour, holding up handmade signs that read, "Big Tobacco Kills 4 Mil. Yearly."

The group, to be joined by other students, is on a weeklong tour of North Florida to raise awareness of anti-tobacco advocacy issues, said Schneitman, the Suwannee County SWAT coordinator and tour chaperone. SWAT members are traveling to 16 counties and will end the tour Saturday in Daytona Beach. "This tour is about activism and advocacy," Schneitman said. "We're against 'big tobacco' - not smokers - and sometimes people don't understand that message."

The tour named "Project Phoenix" is aimed at reigniting declining interest in the SWAT program due to major budget cuts in state funding for youth tobacco prevention programs, organizers said. The students are handing out fliers, demonstrating and visiting radio stations to promote awareness of the issue.

Joy Beth McIntosh, 18, said she didn't realize how much of an impact the tobacco industry had on youth until she joined SWAT. McIntosh, who lives in Live Oak and just graduated from high school, said she hopes teens will realize they are specifically targeted by the industry.

"Tobacco companies use sex appeal, peer pressure and other deceptions to lure kids in," McIntosh said. "They make it seem so normal and cool, but they're really lying.

"Schneitman said a videographer is accompanying SWAT on the tour so the group can use the videotape to provide classroom training for other youth interested in the program. The Lawton Chiles Foundation provided more than $7,000 to fund the students' tour, Schneitman said.

Anti-smoking advocates are calling on the Legislature to provide $39 million for the Tobacco Control Program. The program was launched in 1998 with $70 million from the state's tobacco settlement. Last year, funding was cut to just $1 million. "Even though we don't have a lot of money to promote, we're still going to do what we can to empower youth," McIntosh said.

It's estimated that more than 180,000 school-aged youth in Florida are regular smokers.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.