More than 30 students from throughout the state gathered Saturday at the Utah Department of Health to learn how to help kids stay tobacco-free.

The Teens As Teachers Training is part of a state-wide initiative to reach every elementary and junior high student with tobacco prevention information before the year 2000."The idea is younger kids look up to teenagers and teenagers also serve as role models for kids. Hopefully, younger kids will realize smoking is not cool," said Rebecca Murphy, health educator at the Utah Department of Health.

According to Wayne Davis, executive director of the American Lung Association of Utah, 90 percent of smokers start before they are 19 years old. The average teenage smoker starts at 14.5 years old and becomes a daily smoker by age 18.

So, Krystal Evans, a ninth-grader at South Ogden Junior High, and Lindsay Phillips, a sophomore at Bonneville High in South Ogden, have made more than 60 presentations since last August to get the message across.

They presented their ways of approaching the junior high and elementary students to the assembled teens. Both of them relate to the younger students by finding out what's most important to them. They also provide statistics related to smoking and discuss the 4,000 chemicals smokers inhale when they smoke.

Evans and Phillips are members of the Governor's Youth Council and have staged rallies for increasing taxes on cigarettes. Like most of the pro-gram's participants, they got involved because they have friends who smoke.

"One-third of the people disregard the presentations, while two-thirds say they are interested in helping prevent smoking," said Evans on the effectiveness of her presentations in the schools.

Jessica Jorgensen, a junior at Springville High School, and Monica Sanchez, a junior at Payson High School, are two of the students who learned the technique from Evans and Phillips.

They say kids who smoke make excuses such as "I'll quit later" and "It makes me look good now."

The students are members of the Smoke-Free Class of 2000, a program formed by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to graduate the class of 2000 as the first smoke-free generation.

The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association have sponsored the training since 1988.

For more information on preventing teenage smoking, call the Utah Department of Health at 1-888-567-TRUTH.