NOAH BRYANT BALLARD MANSHIP SCHOOL NEWS SERVICE BATON ROUGE — More than 250 children from across Louisiana gathered Wednesday at the State Capitol to recognize “Kick Butts Day.” Organized by the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living, the event brought together young people ages 11 to 17 to promote tobacco-free lifestyles and advocate for anti-tobacco public policy, especially regarding products that target young consumers, such as flavored e-cigarettes.
“Today is about these young people raising awareness among not only their peers but also policymakers — the people who are in charge of things, if you will,” said Feamula R. Bradley of Shreveport, a regional coordinator with TFL for northwestern Louisiana. “It also shows these kids that their voices matter, and having them here today is a perfect example of them exercising their right to be heard.” Aside from taking part in a full slate of educational activities, which included a “body bag” presentation about the dangers of tobacco use, participants also met with legislators and rallied on the Capitol steps, where Sen. Norby Chabert, RHouma, and Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, addressed the crowd. “I’m here to tell you that living with cancer is not cool. It’s not cool to watch a loved one die because of smoking,” said James. “No matter what your friends say or what tobacco companies tell you through advertising, don’t do that to yourselves.” Rep. Kenny Cox, DNatchitoches, also attended the rally. “This event is inspiring,” he said. “It’s amazing to see our young people realizing that there’s a problem and trying to send a message.” In the recent special legislative session, the Legislature raised taxes on cigarettes to $1.08 per pack, an increase of 22 cents. However, Cox, who authored the original bill carrying the measure, wishes the rates were higher. “If I could, I’d charge $50 (in taxes) per pack.” According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, smoking-related health care costs in Louisiana total almost $2 billion annually, with $803 million covered by the state’s Medicaid program. Cox said the magnitude of those numbers are “horrendous.” “Every cigarette contains more than 700 dangerous chemicals,” he said. “We have too many kids growing up without their parents because of smoking. It’s time for us to get serious.”