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Rally warns youths not to smoke

April 15, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

Mollie Smith was only 12 years old when she had her first taste of tobacco - a stale cigarette shared with a friend.

It made her sick - but not sick enough to stop smoking.

In a few years, she would be going through a pack a day.

"It was part of being a rebellious kid," the Hagerstown resident recalled. "Everybody was doing it and I wanted to fit it. So I smoked."

Even after her mother, who was a smoker, was diagnosed with emphysema, Smith said she continued her habit.

"I saw what my mom was going through, but because of the addiction, I couldn't stop," she said.

But one day, Smith developed a cold and was having trouble breathing. That's when she decided enough was enough.

"I had smoked for 25 years," she said. "I just couldn't do that to myself any longer."

Smith shared her story during the No Smoking Youth Rally on Saturday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.

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The event was hosted by the No Smoking Youth Club, a peer-education program that teaches young people about tobacco and other health dangers.

The rally was aimed at youths ages 7 to 12, and was funded by a Minority Outreach and Technical Assistance grant through the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Brothers United Who Dare to Care.

A youth group leader with the club, Smith said she hoped the children attending the rally would walk away with a better understanding of the long-term effects of cigarettes "and that they will realize that it's not cool - it's life-threatening."

According to Andy Smith, president and executive director of Brothers United Who Dare to Care, the rally has become an annual event, and is aimed at raising awareness among children about the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.

About 100 young people were expected to attend the rally.

The event included guest speakers, surveys that tested participants' knowledge about smoking and a contest. Cash prizes went to those able to name the 20 harmful ingredients found in cigarettes.

"There are many wonderful programs in our community to help people stop smoking," Smith said. "We want to reach individuals at an early age so that they never pick up the habit. We want to empower them with education and resources to help them avoid ever using tobacco."

Akelah Taylor, 11, was among the young people who attended Saturday's rally.

"I've never smoked," the Hagerstown youngster said. "And I never will. It's nasty and can cause cancer."

Taylor said this is the third year she has attended the No Smoking Youth Rally and enjoys the event "because I have fun, but I also learn why we shouldn't smoke. It's really bad for you."

Smith said the rally was open to the public. In addition to the No Smoking Youth Club, young people from other area organizations were expected to attend.

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