Although smoking may seem cool to many teens, 19-year-old Ricardo Martinez of Reseda sees just the opposite.
"Smoking causes your skin to age, and looking old isn't cool, especially when you're really a young person," said Martinez, who graduated from Reseda High School in June.
Using that theme, Martinez recently won first place in a national anti-tobacco art contest sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
In his last semester at Reseda, Martinez entered a school art contest with his poster-sized drawing of a chain-smoking, apparently elderly man with yellow teeth, wrinkled skin and bloodshot eyes, titled "Welcome to Bill's 21st Birthday." It won first place.
At the urging of his teacher, Doris Barela-Fossen, Martinez entered his artwork in the CDC's third annual Teen Media Contest for creative communication of tobacco and health information. The contest is also co-sponsored by the Grammy Award-winning group Boyz II Men.
In late June, Martinez received word from Barela-Fossen that he had won first place in the poster category. "It blew my mind, being a national contest and all," he said.
Martinez received an award certificate, a $100 U.S. Savings Bond, a Boyz II Men poster autographed by all four members and a CD of the group's latest album, "Evolution."
Proud of her student, Barela-Fossen said the award was well-deserved. "He's a very soft-spoken and reserved young man," she said. "For him to get national recognition is wonderful."
CDC spokesman Llelwyn Grant said Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Michael Luchovich of the Atlanta Journal Constitution judged Martinez's artwork out of 900 entries. The winning poster will be used to promote next year's contest, he said.
Grant praised Martinez's efforts, noting, "He did an excellent job and we commend him on his imagination."
As a result of his contest success, Martinez is considering a career in animation. "I'm self-employed," said Martinez, who operates an upholstery business with his father. "But right now I'm thinking about applying to art colleges."
Martinez's drawing, along with winners in other categories, may be viewed at the CDC's Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco.