Kids take artistic stand against smoking

JOHN BURGESON, Connecticut Post
Article Last Updated: 05/02/2008 04:23:10 PM EDT

BRIDGEPORT — It's an accepted axiom of child behavior that teens will more readily take advice from their friends than from their parents.

With that in mind, RYASAP, the regional anti-substance-abuse agency, announced the winners yesterday of its 10th-annual anti-smoking design competition.

"Thirty years ago, 50 percent of young people smoked," said Robert A. Francis, the RYASAP executive director. "Today, the number is about 5 percent."

He added that his mother died in 1999 from congestive heart failure caused by years of smoking. "When she was young, smoking was glamorous, but this artwork goes a long way in getting the glamour out of smoking."

He added that along with the decline in youth cigarette consumption, there has also been a corresponding drop in marijuana use. "There is a real correlation between marijuana use and cigarettes — almost all marijuana users are also smokers.

His comments were buttressed by Kim O'Rielly, executive director of the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board. "In Connecticut, while 17 percent of the adults smoke, the rate of smoking among substance and mental health disorders ranges from 70 percent to as high as 99 percent among methadone maintenance clients."

Also, "about 80 percent of heavy drinkers are also heavy smokers," she said. She also noted that although the state gets $140 million a year through a settlement of claims against tobacco companies, " about zero of that goes to anti-smoking initiatives here."

"Connecticut ranks last in the nation," she said of the money the state spends on anti-smoking campaigns.

The students' art will be transformed into transit ads that will be posted in Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority buses. "My poster says, 'Break the habit — so your kids won't have to,' " said Brendan Bercik of Fairfield College Preparatory School. "I got the idea for this when we were reading about how a lot of kids take up the habit from their parents."

Danielle Domack, a student at Housatonic Community College, had a poster depticting cigarettes butts in an ashtray, with the slogan: "Ashes, ashes — We all fall down."

"I tried to make it cartoonish to appeal to children," she said.

Toni Gates, a student at Masuk High School in Monroe, drew a poster depicting a cigarette choking a smoker.

"I used to smoke, so I know the way cigarettes can control you," she said. "When I used to smoke, I would wake up choking — it was really gross."

Other winners were: Madeline Breda, Girl Scout Troop 1496, Joel Barlow High School; Genaro Cuahuizo, Bassick High School; Trey Kaufmann, Trumbull High School, and Nolan Kendrick, Fairfield Ludlowe High School.

Also, Krista Veikos, Hillcrest Middle School, Trumbull; Dana Longfellow, Fairfield Warde High School; Vania Petit-Frere, Central High School, Bridgeport, and Anthony Riso, Read School, Bridgeport.