Oxford students learn dangers of using tobacco products
Outside of the Oxford Conference Center on Tuesday morning was a banner which read, “One out of three smokers will eventually die from a tobacco-related disease.” A grim reminder for the high school students entering the L.E.A.D. Conference, which aims to cut tobacco out of their lives, but the day was filled with enlightening (and fun) activities to inform the school groups about the dangers of chewing, dipping and smoking tobacco products.
L.E.A.D. (an acronym for Leadership, Engagement and Activism Development) Conferences are a part of Generation FREE, a program under the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi that began back in the early ‘00s, which aims to cut tobacco out of school children’s lives.
The day started with a lighthearted speech from Demarco Fomby who used humor and his acoustic guitar to get a deeper message across.
“Your passion is the key to power,” he said toward the end of his talk, reminding the school groups that youth are often the tastemakers for culture.
The Youth Program Coordinator for Generation FREE, Frederick Wiley, says he was drawn to the message of the program due to familial connections to tobacco.
“I only met one of my grandparents due to tobacco,” he said. “Currently, my grandmother is suffering from lung cancer. I have a very tangible connection to tobacco. I realized how tobacco flies under the radar. You can choose not to use it.”
Wiley says that the conferences aim to have the youth look at the larger picture with tobacco.
“We try to highlight looking at the grand scheme of things,” he said. “Most of tobacco’s ramifications happen later in life. We want to get them to think about when you’re 40, 50 and 60 and you have a family. You want to be around for your grandkids.”
Generation FREE holds ten conferences per year, and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi also has programs for kindergarteners through six graders called Reject All Tobacco (or R.A.T.).
“A tobacco executive was quoted as saying, ‘today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential customer’,” Wiley said. “Nine out of ten smokers started before the age of 18. We can save lives. If I can get a youth to put down tobacco, I can ultimately extend their life.”