To Smoke … Or Not To Smoke

Everybody knows that tobacco use causes a variety of potentially deadly diseases. Smoking also causes the yellowing of teeth and bad breath, as well as lingering odors on clothing and hair.

So why is it that …

  • Nearly 50 million Americans smoke – including one in five teenagers
  • Each day more than 3,000 youth begin to smoke
  • 89% of adult smokers smoked their first cigarette before the age of 18

Among smokers who knew the dangers, the percentage of those who thought of quitting because of the warning was not greater than 50%

Published research studies by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention have found that youth are three times more sensitive to tobacco advertising than adults and are more likely to be influenced to smoke by cigarette marketing than by peer pressure.

This project was designed to show youth how they are manipulated through the power of art, design and advertising to purchase and use tobacco products. We facilitated Telling Stories Through Visuals writing & art workshops with upper-elementary, middle and high school students. The youth deconstructed tobacco ads and identified how the use of tobacco products affected their lives. They wrote about personal experiences with and feelings about the use of tobacco products. Then they illustrated their stories and incorporated their own anti-tobacco-use message within their picture. They also analyzed how artistic ad campaigns and celebrity spokespeople influence their thinking and actions.

tobacco-justin“I experimented with all kinds of drugs before a friend offered me a cigarette. I knew it was bad, but then again, what isn’t? So me, the “bad ass” smoked my first cigarette! I did not like the taste, but it amplified the feeling of the drugs I was doing. But now that I quit all the drugs I used to do, I still smoke cigarettes – because they are easy to get, they are not illegal, and I can’t stop.”  Justin, age 19

“My friend started to smoke at age 9, and then he stopped and started again at age 14. He started to smoke to get attention, but he also became addicted to smoking. This affected me because I wanted to be part of his little group, but I had to be brave. I was thinking about starting to smoke but I realized that it wasn’t worth it because it can damage my health. There are other ways to get attention.”   Anthony, age 15tobacco-fatherdied

The Mural, a montage of the stories and artwork created at the workshops, is used to remind others about the health risks of tobacco use. The “Art of Manipulation – Tobacco Awareness” project made its debut at the height of the anti-tobacco campaign.

Miami Herald, Oct. 31, 1999 Children & Youth Funding Report, Sept. 15, 1999


Tobacco Awareness © Dena Stewart

At age thirteen, two friends and I cut class and took a bus to someone else’s neighborhood, where no one would know us.

We bought a pack of cigarettes, thirty cents at that time;There were no age restrictions then.  We each chipped in a dime.

The first puff didn’t taste so good.  The second made us dizzy. With twenty cigarettes to smoke, our afternoon was busy.

The smoking made our throats sore.  We felt nauseous and turned pale. But thinking we looked grown-up, we learned how to inhale.

The U.S. Surgeon General said tobacco can cause stroke, cancer, heart and lung disease; These warnings seemed a joke.

Twenty-five years later, I felt physically unfit. My doctor said it’s ‘cause I smoke. I vowed that I would quit.

I tried to stop, then soon discovered that I was addicted. But Big Tobacco said “no way.”  The news was quite conflicted.

Nicotine, in large amounts, was added to the leaf to keep more people smoking. A truth beyond belief.

Many lawsuits later it was finally revealed that Big Tobacco tampered, but kept the facts concealed.

Their goal was to hook youngsters to start smoking in their teens. They lured the youth through ads well placed on signs; in magazines.

Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, the epitome of “Cool” were heroes to both young and old – all taken for the “Fool.”

3,000 youth begin to smoke, each day, in spite of knowledge. And smart adults keep smoking, those with high degrees from college.

Cigarettes have poisons that cause illness and cruel death; and even on a lighter note, they stain teeth and cause bad breath.

That smoking causes impotence doesn’t lessen the allure. So what will stop Tobacco from winning in this war?