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SWAT > News and Events > Phoenix Tour > Daytona News Journal

Teens urge peers to resist tobacco ads

Staff Writer

June 12, 2004

DAYTONA BEACH -- While many teenagers are spending their summer on the beach, a group of students from Volusia and Suwanee counties joined here to warn their peers about cigarette advertising that targets them.

Members of Students Working Against Tobacco lined the Broadway Bridge on Friday, holding seven signs which in sequence read "Big Tobacco causes 1/5 of all Volusia deaths."

Arnashia Matherson, 14, of DeLand, held her sign in memory of her grandfather who died of lung cancer two years ago. "I got involved because I wanted to fight back," said Arnashia, who chairs the Volusia County chapter of SWAT. Arnashia joined eight SWAT members from Suwanee County who are on an eight-day anti-tobacco advocacy tour to various cities in Florida.

In a strategy the group calls "street marketing," the traveling teens handed out fliers to passing cars at the intersection of International Speedway Boulevard and Beach Street. The fliers, which contain statements from tobacco company executives about marketing toward teens, received a mixed reception from passers-by. A young man with a cigarette dangling from his mouth tried to give the flier back, but the group was persistent. "We're spreading a positive message," said Kevin Payton, 18. "I gave up a week of my summer to do this."

In other cities, SWAT members blanketed car windshields with notes that encapsulated the group's message in places where teenagers were likely to be. In Gainesville, a previous stop on the tour, SWAT chaperone Steven Schneitman of Live Oak estimated millions of cars were exposed to their message. "These kids stand out there for hours," Schneitman said. "There's a lot of energy here."

In the recreational vehicle most of the teens call home for the tour, the SWAT members passionately discussed their reasons opposing tobacco. "What keeps me motivated is the amount of people that aren't aware of what's going on," said Zishan Jiwani, 16, of Daytona Beach, a student at Spruce Creek High School. "We want people to recognize that Big Tobacco is so manipulative." "Tobacco spends billions of dollars marketing to kids," Schneitman added. "They've known it was deadly since 1954 and not done anything to stop it."

According to SWAT, 430,000 Americans die each year from illnesses caused by tobacco products. "That's like having 9/11 every three days," Schneitman said.

Jiwani said the student volunteers of SWAT are more likely to reach peers than their parents. "Tobacco tells kids to smoke and they think they're being rebellious or sexy," said SWAT member Joy McIntosh, 18, "We're rebelling against Big Tobacco."

Some SWAT members have extended their message to their families. Arnashia said she tried to discourage her mother from smoking by telling her about an anti-tobacco campaign that claims tobacco companies make $51 billion a year from their products. "When I told her about the campaign she said 'there's a lot of things I would do for $51 billion, but not kill all those people,' " Arnashia said.

Despite their efforts to dissuade teens from tobacco use, the Volusia and Suwanee County chapters of SWAT have lost 97 percent of their funding as a result of statewide budget cuts.

SWAT members hope the tour will reignite the enthusiasm the group once had. "We're not going to stop fighting," said an optimistic Jiwani. "We believe in it."