Fort Bliss, TX (KDBC) — Tobacco-prevention advocate Rebecca Zima stood back and cheered as the student council from the University Medical Center Teen Advisory Board began Kick Butts Day, March 23, at the Gary Del Palacio Recreation Center in El Paso.
Kids here joined thousands of young people nationwide to kick off the 18th annual event. Sponsored by United Health Foundation and organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Kick Butts Day is a celebration for youth to fight against tobacco use.
“In Texas, we celebrate Kick Butts Day as Tobacco- Free Kids Day. It’s a day for kids to come out andadvocate for a tobacco-free lifestyle and also to say no to the tobacco industry that targets them,” said Zima, El Paso’s regional coordinator of the tobacco prevention and control program for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The event started in 1995 to raise awareness of the problems of tobacco use, to encourage youth not to fall for tobacco industry marketing strategies, and to urge elected officials to take action to protect children from tobacco.
“I’ve never been a smoker, and I am so glad that this is being presented to the kids,” said Vince Perez, County Commissioner for Precinct 1 and retired chief of police. “I just learned that there are 50 deaths per hour in the U.S. because of smoking, so every day is Kick Butts Day.”
This year the main focus is on the products and marketing that entice kids to use tobacco. According to the Federal Trade Commission, tobacco companies spend $8.5 billion a year to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.
“Kick Butts Day means living in a smoke-free environment,” said Osbaldo Bavitia, teen volunteer and host. “I have friends that smoke, and I share this information with them so we all can live a healthy and smoke-free life.”
In Texas, tobacco use claims 24,500 lives and costs $5.83 billion in healthcare bills each year. Currently, 17.4 percent of the state’s high school students smoke.
“(The tobacco industry’s) older customers are dying because of the consequences of smoking and they are targeting younger customers,” said Lelia Onsurez, community health educator at University Medical Center. “We recruit them when they are in seventh grade and keep them all the way through college.”
Cadets from the Irvin High School color guard team decided to give up some of their spring break to support Kick Butts Day.
“I’m proud of my kids for wanting to come out and support this event,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class James Sumter. “It’s something parents need to talk about with their kids.”
Events throughout the state continue to spread the message and encourage young adults to say no to tobacco.
For more information on how you can participate in Kick Butts Day, visit www.kickbuttsday.org .