Athlete Steve Young says he may not be buff, but he sure doesn't puff.
"I think I'm cool and I never smoked," he says as he visits Utah County classrooms via videotape as part of the "Buff Don't Puff" campaign designed to convince youngsters to leave tobacco alone."You'll regret it later if you start," Young admonished.
Sponsored by Intermountain Health Care in cooperation with Brigham Young University and the Utah County Department of Health, the campaign features well-known athletes such as Young on tape and BYU athletes in person in classrooms filled with fifth-graders.
The campaign is funded by TCI, Crowell & Associates Advertising and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations Smokeless States program.
"We feel it is important to provide young people with some positive reasons not to smoke," said Val Hale, BYU associate athletic director. "The athletes will be telling these 10- and 11-year-olds that their ability to excel in life, particularly in athletics, is due in part to their choice not to smoke."
Hale said every child who hears the presentation will receive a specially minted copper coin that buys admission into a BYU sports event such as a volleyball, baseball or soccer game, gymnastics event or a track or swimming meet.
It may include selected basketball games, as well, he said.
In addition, every child in one of the classrooms where the presentation is made will be invited to sign a poster pledging his or her commitment to stay smoke free.
They are also entered in a drawing for prizes that include a Steve Young autographed football, a Wally Joyner autographed baseball, a Utah Jazz bit of memorabilia and gift certificates to local merchants.
"This program was designed as an alternative to the popular Tar Wars program that has been presented in schools for the past few years," said Pat Tucker, prevention specialist for the county health department. "We have worked hard to develop a curriculum that will be interesting and motivational to the students and that is in keeping with state school curriculum goals."
"If you do start to smoke, you'll regret it later," said Korie Rogers, a BYU women's volleyball team leader, talking to children at Timpanogos Elementary Tuesday.
Those who smoke and try to compete are much more easily winded, added BYU basketball player Danny Bower, also at Timpanogos.
Other BYU sports representatives participating in the kick-off Tuesday included baseball player Ryan Pond, swimmer Sarah Street and track team members Marc Chen and Emily Goff.
Sixty BYU athletes have signed on to help share the message as one of four service projects BYU athletes are involved in through Cougar TRACKS (Together Responsible Athletes Can Kindle Success).
"Our goal is to reach nearly 5,000 fifth-graders this year with this important health and lifestyle choice message," said Bryant Larsen, IHC director of public relations.
"Studies have shown that 90 percent of Utah adults who smoke started smoking as teens. Utah is one of the few states where teen smoking in on the rise; we want to do something about that."
"We decided to focus on fifth-graders, because this is a pivotal time for most young people in terms of making important lifestyle decisions," Tucker said. "We feel we can have the greatest impact at this age."