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Anti-Smoking Film Draws on Young Talent : Education: Youths learn animation techniques while making a cartoon to educate their peers about the dangers of cigarettes.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A large, round creature takes a puff on his cigarette and the smoke goes up to his head, erasing a brain cell. Soon all his brain cells have disappeared and he falls down dead.

This creature is the star of a fear-inspiring animated film created by 10 Torrance teen-agers pooling their artistic talents to warn their classmates about the dangers of cigarettes.

Smoking can have dire consequences, and students from Torrance Unified School District tried to get that message across in 30-second animated films as part of the AnimAction Tobacco Use Prevention Education workshop.

The workshops give students an opportunity to learn about cartooning as well as the hazards of smoking.

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About 90 middle school students gathered Jan. 11-12 at the Levy Center to design, draw, color and film the public service announcements.

Working in teams of 10, they used pencils and cartoon “flip books” to produce brightly colored cartoon images for the films.

At a time when health officials nationwide are concerned about a growing number of teen-age smokers, programs such as this are intended to discourage them from smoking.

A few of the students admitted to smoking occasionally because of peer pressure or because their parents smoke. But most vowed they would not take up the habit.

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“I feel that smoking may be popular, but you kill yourself, everyone around you and your environment when you do it,” said Mari Higuchi, 13. She said that although her father and grandmother smoke, she does not allow their habit to influence her.

The school district has participated in the AnimAction program four times before, and the students have always enjoyed it, said David DeBella, a science and health teacher at Madrona Middle School who helped supervise the program.

DeBella said creating anti-smoking cartoons may teach some students that smoking is harmful and perhaps even spark an interest in filmmaking.

One student, Daniel Quintana, 12, has already decided that he wants to create cartoons for a living. While working for Walt Disney Co., his father worked on both the “Bambi” and “Peter Pan” films, and Daniel is looking forward to drawing cartoons professionally someday.

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Some films produced by AnimAction participants from the Manhattan Beach School District were shown in local movie theaters in 1993. The films produced by the Torrance students will be shown to the public Tuesday at Torrance High School.

AnimAction, a private organization with headquarters in Santa Monica, was founded by filmmakers Bruce Royer and Clifford Cohen six years ago in Montreal. They have worked with students from across the United States to produce animated films dealing with contemporary issues such as AIDS, racism and drug abuse.

Cohen called animated film the perfect medium for teaching youths about important issues.

“Animated characters are very naive, but the concepts are so clever,” he said. Young people have a keen sense of what makes a good cartoon and which advertisements are likely to discourage other youngsters from smoking, he added.

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A report by the California Department of Health Services concludes that the problem of teen-age smoking is increasing, saying that more than 200 California teen-agers become smokers each day.

More than 16% of youths ages 16 and 17 are smoking today, a rate that is 10 times greater than that for those ages 12 and 13, according to the report.

That suggests that middle school is a crucial time to begin educating young people about the hazards of smoking, DeBella said.

“Smoking is a big problem in society in general, and it starts in middle school,” he said.

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But some students said they already understand the consequences of smoking.

Alison Imamura and Olivia Baziw, both 13, play sports and don’t smoke because they want to stay in good shape.

“You want to have good lungs to play sports.” Baziw said.

Added Megan Potter, 13: “I don’t like smoking because it’s smelly and nasty.”

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