I've had relatives who have died from smoking. I felt I had to be a part of getting the word out. —Kayla Curtis of Orem
AMERICAN FORK — A sign at the entrance of Greenwood Skate Park clearly spells out Utah County's prohibition of smoking in public parks.
Even so, Ricky Blandon of American Fork says smoking is a common occurrence there.
"I see it. I'm here every day," the 16-year-old said. "There's more younger kids than older kids smoking."
Although the outdoor smoking ordinance passed four years ago, there's an ongoing need to raise public awareness of the smoking prohibition as well as the dangers of tobacco products, said Sarah Simons, coordinator of OUTRAGE, Utah County's anti-tobacco youth group.
On Saturday, representatives of OUTRAGE and Truth Against Tobacco joined forces with Milosport to host a skate event and celebrate smoke-free parks.
In addition to the skating competition, the free event at the skate park included educational booths, food, face painting and games.
Savannah Scott, 17, of Pleasant Grove, supported the effort by enduring multiple plunges into a dunk tank while dressed in a costume fashioned as a giant cigarette.
Scott, a member of OUTRAGE, said many teens view smoking as "not that big of a deal. It is a big deal. It kills so many people. I want to educate people about the dangers of tobacco."
Another OUTRAGE member, Kayla Curtis of Orem, said she has a personal connection to the issue. "I've had relatives who have died from smoking. I felt I had to be a part of getting the word out."
Despite laws that prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors and regulations that prohibit youths from possessing them, it is relatively easy to obtain cigarettes and other products from older youths, OUTRAGE members said.
"I know older people who just don't care and they will give it to kids," Scott said.
As a parent, Stephanie Hart of Salt Lake said she is grateful for the smoking prohibition in public parks and greater public awareness of the health risks of tobacco.
"I wouldn't come here if I saw smoking. It's just not safe for her," said Hart, referring to her 4-year-old daughter, Kira.
Travis Thornton of Cedar Hills said he, too, supports the ban because without it, youth tend to view smoking as the norm. "They wouldn't think anything about trying it."
Thornton's 16-year-old son Kaden, who was taking part in the skating competition, said it's best to avoid tobacco because "you won't be able to do as much."
Another competitor, 9-year-old Damon Draper, said he had taken two spills on the skate course Saturday morning. Still, he was enjoying the event, particularly the free popcorn, cotton candy and Vitaminwater.
"I'm learning a little more about tobacco, too," he said. "If you smoke, it makes your lungs bad and your teeth rotten."
Simons said OUTRAGE, which is sponsored by the Utah County Health Department, played a role in the passage of the smoking ban in parks.
The youth group has now set its sights on the regulation of flavored tobacco products and those that dissolve.
"They're tired of Big Tobacco targeting youth with their products," Simons said.