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Healthy Lungs : Students Shout Out Against Tobacco Hazards in the Great American SmokeScream

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eleven-year-old Chris Moore stuck his fingers in his ears, took a deep breath and screamed his lungs out in the middle of an assembly Thursday morning at TeWinkle Middle School.

And he didn’t get in trouble for it.

Moore joined a chorus of 360 fellow sixth-graders in the Great AmericanSmokeScream. The American Cancer Society invited more than 4,000 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders across Orange County to holler in deafening solidarity with thousands of peers across the country.

The group launched the SmokeScream to advise young people not to be swayed by tobacco industry advertising and to learn about the health hazards of lighting up. A dozen schools participated.

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“I liked the screaming part the best,” said Moore, who lives in Costa Mesa, his cheeks still rosy from the exertion. “Usually if you did something like that in assembly, you’d get expelled.”

Sally Carson, a representative from the American Cancer Society, said the event was designed to complement the 19th annual Great American Smokeout, which encourages adult smokers to quit for a day.

“We want teens to understand the dangers of smoking,” she said. “They shouldn’t feel mature because they smoke. They should feel mature because they make the choice not to.”

Derek Jiacomazzi, an investment planner from Irvine, served as chairman of the event and donated the money for the colorful SmokeScream T-shirts the students wore. He got involved with the American Cancer Society after his mother, a former smoker, died of cancer last year.

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“Every day more than 3,000 teens in the United States smoke their first cigarette,” he said, citing American Cancer Society statistics. “If we get just one kid to stop smoking, then we’ve done our job.”

Almost 11% of Californians age 12 to 17 reported smoking recently, nearly 20% more than in the previous three years, according to a state Department of Health Services report in October.

Although cigarette use among Orange County teen-agers is lower than state and national rates, a 1993 county Department of Education study showed that 18% of the county’s 11th-grade boys and 16% of girls that age smoke regularly.

In response to the rise in teen-age smoking, President Clinton recently approved Food and Drug Administration proposals to tighten regulations on cigarette advertising and require proof of age for purchasers.

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Tobacco industry officials have countered that the FDA rules amount to an unwarranted application of food and drug laws that will not halt youth smoking. They contend that Clinton’s real agenda is confiscating cigarettes from the roughly 25% of adults who smoke. Several major cigarette manufacturers filed a lawsuit, arguing that the new rules impinge on advertiser rights.

Sitting in TeWinkle Middle School’s musty auditorium filled with anti-smoking balloons and paper-chains, Ben Tierno, 11, stared at a poster on the wall.

The poster showed a woman’s face covered in bubbling black tar and read, “If what happened on your inside happened on your outside, would you still smoke?”

“My sister smokes and I don’t want her to,” said the Costa Mesa youth, shuffling his feet. “I think if they showed more pictures of what can happen to your body, with your lungs all black, then maybe kids wouldn’t do it anymore.”

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