Utah students kicked butts Thursday.
Cigarette butts, that is.Several schools held activities for National Kick Butts Day, an anti-smoking effort headed by teenagers.
"No one focuses on teens smoking, just adults," said Angie Mota, a senior on the East High Peer Leadership Team. "We're trying to get East students to quit for a day or get information on how to quit."
Student Gina Massa is doing just that. The East junior, who began smoking at age 11, has not had a cigarette since Sunday.
"The hardest part is walking down the halls and smelling the people who smoke," said Massa, who attributes difficulties with kicking the habit to stress. "It's the biggest urge."
Help for students like Massa is on the way. The eight-week Ending Nicotine Dependence, or END program, will begin this month in Utah, with a facilitator in every school district, said Rebecca Murphy, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Health.
The program, tailored for secondary schoolchildren, offers ways to handle stress, a main reason kids start smoking, and nutrition classes.
"We're hoping they know they're not alone. There is hope. They can quit," Murphy said. "This helps them to move along that process and become a successful, smoke-free person."
In Utah, 13.7 percent of teens reported they smoke regularly, according to a 1994 survey, the most recent data available, Murphy said. More than 60 percent of those smokers said they had tried to quit.
Most junior high-age students know health issues associated with tobacco use but light up anyway because their parents or an older sibling smoke, said Jackie Farnsworth, prevention specialist at Granite Park Junior High.
When smoking is a function of a young adolescent's social life, quitting is doubly hard. Either the child has to develop strong refusal skills and ask friends not to smoke around him or her or find new friends.
Other obstacles for kicking the habit include fear of failure and confessing to parents, required by federal law when enrolling in teen smoking-cessation classes. Fear of weight gain also is a problem.
"I try to tell them you'd have to gain 100 pounds for your weight to be as much of a health issue as smoking," Farnsworth said.
Farnsworth is working with one student who has not smoked for six weeks. She quit so her body could handle the rigors of volleyball.
"The other day she told me, `It's so cool. My hands are warm now. I can breathe so much better now,' " Farnsworth said, explaining that smoking can curtail blood circulation to extremities.
Farnsworth helped students organize Kick Butts Day activities at the school.
Granite Park students toured a House of Tobacco Terror, a room filled with exhibits and hands-on experiences intended to teach students about the dangers of tobacco use and encourage young smokers to enroll in cessation class.
One exhibit displayed a jar of faux phlegm to depict the two cups an average emphysema patient coughs up each day. A second jar represented the amount of tar that collects in the lungs of someone who smokes one pack of cigarettes a day for a year.
Other displays showed the disfiguring effects of smoking and chewing tobacco.
"I don't want to end up like that," said Kristy McAllister, a seventh-grader. "I should tell my friend about this stuff. She won't be able to breathe in the future."
At East High, local disc jockeys from the 94.9 Z Morning Zoo radio show urged students never to try smoking.
"I can't quit, man. I've tried so hard," DJ Danger Boy told about 70 students packing an East classroom. "If I keep smoking, I will die of cancer. If you want to try smoking, please, please don't. Quit or die."
END classes at East
The END smoking cessation course begins at East High April 21, 23, 28 and 30 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Students elsewhere may call 1-888-576-TRUTH to find the nearest available program.