Chocolate, vanilla, gummy bears, cupcakes, every kind of fruit.
Three Summit Middle School students listed tobacco flavors they learned about in an after-school anti-tobacco program. They were gathered outside the high school Wednesday, July 23, preparing for an appearance on the Summit County community TV station.
“I saw a new flavor yesterday that’s called mother’s milk,” said Stephane Stookey, the nurse with the county’s public health department who worked with the kids.
“Ew,” said Celene Casillas, 12.
“That’s gross,” said Rubi Roque, also 12.
Thanks to a tax increase on tobacco products and subsequent grant funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, Stookey said, the county created an anti-tobacco task force of middle schoolers for the first time this year. Stookey taught roughly 11 students about the dangers of tobacco and encouraged them to be anti-smoking ambassadors to their friends.
She said so many kids were interested that she had to turn some away. The students met once a week after school during the spring semester, made posters and created a short “Mythbusters”-style video they presented at Skyline Cinema 8, the movie theater in Dillon.
In the last couple weeks, anti-tobacco ads that the students picked out were placed on Summit Stage buses roaming the county.
Nellie Ruiz, 12, said she joined the group because her mother’s boyfriend smoked and she knew it was unhealthy.
“I wanted to see if I could do anything to help,” she said.
One thing that surprised Stookey in teaching the class was how little the students knew about tobacco to begin with. She said maybe that’s because families aren’t talking about tobacco as much as they did in decades past and schools seem to focus more on harder drugs and alcohol.
“When you’re talking about meth,” she said, “cigarettes are like, ‘Ugh, who cares.’”
She said the group discussed the negative health effects tobacco has on the body, the different types of tobacco and nicotine products, the ways those products are marketed and the rise of e-cigarettes.
“Our big crazy stat this year that the kids just went nuts over,” she said, was that 4,100 kids and adolescents under age 18 become new daily smokers every year in Colorado.
In Summit County, about 18 percent of residents smoke, said Amy Wineland, the county’s public health director.
Roque’s sister, Maria Chavez, 13, said she knew some teens who smoke and would be interested in bringing them to join the task force next year.
“They’re young. They still have a long life in front of them, so why not enjoy it rather than smoking and drinking and all that?” she said.
She added that she knew older people who smoke, too, including a couple with a young daughter.
“If something happens to them, she’ll be alone,” she said. She said her attempts to get them to quit have been unsuccessful.
“It’s up to them. I can’t control them. It’s their life,” she said. But young or old, “they shouldn’t try it at all.”