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Sue Bush
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Battling A Habit Before It Begins

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, March 24, 2006

REACH Community Health Advocate Sharon Leary talked with McCann students about a "Clear The Air" challenge.
iBerkshires Friday Health Focus

North Adams - Andrew Carrigan, 18, said that he's eager to engage in a competition with Silvio O. Conte Middle School students, and it's not because he expects an easy win over the younger group.

A Challenge

Carrigan and other members of the Charles H. McCann Technical High School's Students Against Destructive Decisions organization are participants in a REACH Community Health Foundation "Clear the Air" campaign challenge. The "challenge" is to create a print, radio, or television advertisement to discourage youth smoking; the competitors are McCann and Conte students and students enrolled at Drury High School.

"I'm glad that Conte is doing this, too, and getting the younger kids involved," Carrigan, a McCann Hornet football player, said following a SADD meeting with REACH Health Advocate Sharon Leary."I'm hoping that participating in this keeps them away from smoking."

Christine Mahar, an 18-year-old senior, believes that involving older students may carry a positive influence to younger students as well.

"I think that having the older kids, the seniors, be involved, that it might be a good way to get younger kids not to smoke," she said. "Younger kids look up to seniors, and if we aren't smoking, and we are doing this, they might not start smoking."

The campaign, the information provided by Leary, and the effort required to create a youth-focused ad will benefit all the students, according to senior Kolin Hurlbut, 18.

"It makes people see the bad effects of smoking," he said.

Carrigan, Mahar, and Hurlbut were among the about 20 freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior students who , along with adult advisors English teacher Katie West and Office Technology teacher Becky Buck, spent about 45 minutes with Leary on March 23. Leary explained the challenge to the students and led a discussion focused on informational materials distributed to the students.

Media Influence

Senior Kolin Hurlbut examined informational material provided by the REACH Community Health Foundation.
Media depictions of smoking may make the habit seem alluring, or present an "everybody's doing it" image, Leary said, and noted that many movies and television programs feature smoking. Movies that feature young actors, such as "Uptown Girls," which starred youngster Dakota Fanning, and religious themed movies, such as "Saved," have showcased smoking, according to information provided by Leary.

While the entertainment business may portray smoking as a casual activity, the reality is far from casual, Leary noted.

"Smoking affects your skin, your hair, your breath; it's really not sexy," she said.

There are numerous fashion models who refuse to work in advertisements that sell cigarettes, which is perceived as a backlash from earlier decades, when models often "starred" in cigarette advertisements. Some former cigarette models, including a male model who posed as the "Marlboro Man," have died from diseases linked to cigarette smoking, such as lung cancer, Leary said.

In addition to lung and heart disease and bad breath and smoky-smelling hair, smoking has been linked to fertility difficulties in men and women, Leary said.

That information seemed to come as news to most of the students.

"You mean that it's harder to get pregnant if you smoke?" asked one clearly surprised student.

Cash Ash

Smoking takes a wallop out of wallets, Leary said, and offered calculations that counted the financial impact of smoking 10 cigarettes daily as $912.50 per year, and put a pack-a-day habit at $1,825 annually.

A relative's almost life-long smoking habit cost that person about $120,000, Leary said.

As preparation for developing their own ads, students examined the techniques used in print cigarette ads that may entice youth toward smoking.

Tricks Of The Trade

For example, a Kool cigarette ad showed a woman in a bar gazing longingly toward a person holding a pack of that brand of cigarette; Leary pointed out that in most parts of the country, smoking in bars is prohibited. She also noted that the ad doesn't identify the person holding the cigarettes, so there is no way to know if the individual is male, female, attractive, or homely. The ad relies on several subliminal messages to lure consumers, she said.

And although cigarette companies are governed by federal laws that forbid advertising to youth, a Winston cigarette ad appears to boast a youthful component. The ad depicts young men in swim trunks carrying surf boards along the beach with the captions "leave the bull behind" and "board meeting." The ad also promotes the cigarettes as "additive free," which at least one student at the meeting erroneously read as "addictive free."

"So what's the real story?" Leary said. "How can you surf if you smoke? And just try lighting up a cigarette while you are trying to surf."

Students Already Lighting Up

"Clear the Air" participants have their work cut out for them; a 2005 student health survey completed by 1032 eighth, tenth, and twelfth grade students enrolled at the Drury, McCann, Hoosac Valley and Mount Greylock Regional high schools as well as the Conte and Adams Memorial middle schools documented some disheartening statistics.

According to the survey, 11.2 students smoked a first cigarette while in the eighth grade, and 12.2 percent of first cigarettes were smoked by tenth grade students. Some students enrolled in all grades and schools participating in the survey said they smoked regularly. About 22 percent of tenth grade students and 30 percent of twelfth grade students acknowledged habitual smoking.

All the entries will be showcased during a May "Relay For Life" event sponsored by Northern Berkshire Healthcare. The REACH Community Foundation is directly affiliated with the NBH.

The entry judged as the best in each category will deliver its' message to a wide audience. The top print ad will appear during May in local newspapers, the ad judged most effective in the television category will be broadcast on the Northern Berkshire Community Television public access channels during May and possibly on select channels offered by the Adelphia cable company. The top radio advertisement will be aired on local radio station WNAW. The ads may also appear on

The campaign is funded with a $1,400 "Get The Word Out" mini-grant awarded by the Medical Foundation Youth Action Initiative.

Additional information about the "Clear The Air" campaign may be acquired by calling Leary at 413-664-5404.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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