Joseph Charter School junior Tori Suto is using her Family, Career and Community Leaders of America project to forewarn her fellow students about the danger of tobacco addiction.
Suto, 16, said she chose the project out of a number of possibilities because she had more of a vision for tobacco. She began working earnestly on the project after her school’s winter break. FCCLA adviser Marla Dotson also provided assistance to the project.
Suto began by calling Building Healthy Families, which coordinates addiction programs, to get tobacco prevention tips. She discovered the county does not fund anti-tobacco prevention.
The county has funding for gambling prevention and drugs and alcohol. BHF prevention coordinator Jessi Howard did try to help, including searching for a speaker on the subject.
Suto prepared a presentation for the seventh and eighth grade classes and later enlisted their aid in helping to bring her message to the rest of the school.
Dotson discovered materials she could order on the FCCLA website from the “Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.” It included videos that helped with the subject.
The program focuses on school children signing a pledge to become part of the “First Tobacco Free Generation.”
“After I learned all this good information with terrible facts, I was like, ‘I need to make sure I do more than two grades,’” Suto said.
The junior high school students she enlisted for help make posters on the topic and helped Suto spread the message to the fifth and sixth grades with classroom demonstrations. The high school is next on her list. Students in grades 1-4 were deemed too young.
What really motivated Suto to get the word out was learning that tobacco, if used as intended, kills about half its users. “And you never see that in the news,” she said.
She was also surprised at some of the tobacco marketing campaigns that continue to target youth, another impetus for the project. She also noted that in rural areas, youth are more likely to use chewing tobacco. She said she’s seen kids spit their chew into their back packs.
Another trend is the use of e-cigarettes. Although supposedly marketed to adults, the e-cig manufacturers use such flavors as bubble gum, cotton candy and coffee. Suto calls them “youth flavors.”
“They’re not designed for 25-year-olds,” she said. “They’re designed for 16-year-olds.”
Dotson said at least one student had been caught using e-cigarettes on school property. She added that Big Tobacco spends nearly $9 billion on advertising in the U.S. alone.
Suto’s project has been a success. More than 70 students have signed the “First Tobacco Free Generation” pledge. She said that organizing the project was the most difficult part, but she’s enjoyed it, as did Dotson.
“The junior high kids really got into it, and put in a good effort into it,” Dotson said. “It’s been really worthwhile.”
The JCS junior is submitting her project online to an FCCLA program “Student Body.” People at the FCCLA Nationals will see it, and she will also get recognition for completing the project at the state level. From there, it will be considered for national FCCLA honors.