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Williamsport High snuffing out Joe Camel

November 20, 1997

Williamsport High snuffing out Joe Camel

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - Joe Camel, the swank, surfboard-riding, pool-playing persona of the cigarette industry, wouldn't have felt at home Wednesday at Williamsport High School.

Students were readying a black, homemade casket for him.

In fact, every aspect of smoking got a bum rap at the school.

Adam Tackett strolled around in the crowded cafeteria dressed as a huge cigarette. Tackett peeked out through a hole in the top of an imitation leather outfit, which had crumpled red cellophane on top to resemble burning embers.

Tackett hacked and coughed as he moved through the lunchtime crowd, and complained of feeling hot.

"It gets people's attention," said Tackett, a senior.

Tenth-grade health teacher Donna Peters has long emphasized the dangers of smoking and alcohol in her classroom, but this year she wanted to do more. And she figured it would be especially fitting to launch a special, anti-smoking campaign to coincide with today's The Great American Smokeout.

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Across the country today, millions of smokers will be asked to put down their cigarettes for one day as the first step toward kicking the habit.

During morning announcements this week, school officials have read smoking statistics, such as the benefits smokers would receive if they quit now. A team of students picked by Peters is also going room to room making mini-lectures about the pitfalls of smoking.

About 250 of the school's 700 students signed pledges not to smoke today, Peters said.

The activities will culminate today with the burial of Joe Camel, the laid-back mascot of Camel cigarettes that is often criticized for being used to target young smokers.

A black, plywood casket made by student Eric Lanzendorfer will be carried around the halls of the school today before being laid to rest outside on the school grounds, said Peters.

Peters' students will take turns digging the grave between classes today and then bury the casket after school, Peters said.

"I wanted to make something that was fun for the kids, and something they could remember," said Peters.

R.J. Reynolds announced July 10 it would eliminate the Joe Camel character from its ads following repeated accusations from anti-smoking advocates and government regulators that the company used the figure to attract young smokers.

The smoking rate is relatively high at the Williamsport High, with an estimated 30 percent of the students puffing, said Peters.

"I think it's even more than that due to peer pressure and everyone trying to be cool," said Matt Hobby, 15, who was running the anti-smoking pledge booth in the cafeteria.

A crowd of students gathered around Hobby's table Wednesday to sign pledges.

Student volunteer Jennifer Davis said a lot of smokers at the school do not like the habit, and she believes this week's aggressive campaign will be enough to convince them to quit.

Student Walter Henson said he has been smoking for about four years, but decided to sign a stop smoking pledge form because he is worried about his lungs.

"I figured what better time to do it," said Henson, 18.

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