NORTH SMITHFIELD — As he watched five of the world's best in-line skaters, skateboarders and BMXers show off X Games-like tricks on a half-pipe placed in a parking lot near the Dr. Paul F. Joyce Athletic Complex, North Smithfield High sophomore Paris Correia marveled at what he was witnessing.
“I personally wish I knew how to skate, and this re-enforces it,” grinned Correia, a varsity football and basketball player, on Monday afternoon. “I know it takes a lot of dedication and practice to do that stuff, and those guys can't smoke or chew. If they did, they wouldn't be able to perform the way they do.
“I've never used tobacco, because I personally think it's disgusting,” he added. “I don't like the smell of it, as it gives me a headache.”
That's just what representatives of ASA Entertainment of Culver City, Calif. And the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids wanted to hear during this Anti-Smoking Association High School Tour. Approximately 850 high and middle school students — not to mention North Smithfield Superintendent of Schools Steve Lindberg, NSHS Principal Robert Mezzanotte, Health and Physical Education Department Head Jim Fitzgerald and other educators — stood “oohing” and “aahing” at the amazing moves occurring high above them.
“This is not your typical anti-tobacco program,” stated Pam Shayer, Coordinator of both the Lincoln and North Smithfield Prevention Coalitions, who sponsored the event with the U.S. Marine Corps. “The kids are loving this because it's something completely different from the basic lectures students receive on substance abuse.
“It's the entertainment they like to see because it's something they watch, things such as the X Games. When there's an important message involved, it's a win-win situation.”
Sara Kindig, the tour's manager, offered this: “What we do is use extreme sports and professional X-Games athletes as the medium to deliver the anti-tobacco message to the students. While the students are engaged and captivated in watching the athletes' performances, we then use the opportunity to speak to them about the dangers of tobacco use.”
Those athletes included in-line skater Eito Yasutoko, Flatland BMX trickster Trevor Meyer, skateboarder Anthony Furlong and BMX High-Air competitors Koji Kraft and Jimmy Walker. Yasutoko and Meyer both have won multiple X Games' medals in their respective disciplines, while Kraft and Walker have both snared medals on the international level.
While they executed their amazing feats, Tour Emcee Jim Coleman spent the better part of 40 minutes preaching the deadly statistics behind smoking and chewing.
Among them: About 4.8 million people world-wide die of tobacco use each year, which adds up to one every 6.6 seconds; 400,000 perish every year in the United States alone, and 1,200 Americans per day. California led all 50 states in adult deaths last year as a result of smoking, while Rhode Island ranked 40th at approximately 1,700 persons.
He also explained that 200,000 Americans died last year; and one cigar equals 3.5 packs of cigarettes in the amount of nicotine it holds (440 milligrams). A single cigarette has 11.
“Our campaign believes in the dangers of tobacco very strongly,” Coleman stated over the microphone. “We're here to reduce the amount of cigarettes or other forms of tobacco you or your friends use, and prevent you from using altogether. As you know, it's illegal to all of those under 18.
“Tobacco companies try to make their products look cool, and attract you to them,” he continued. “They don't care about your health. They just want to make you a life-long customer. We're trying to fight fire with fire. I guarantee I'm not embellishing any of this. We're not talking just about smokers, but those who use smokeless tobacco, which is just as deadly.”
Gabrielle Lafond, an eighth-grader at NSMS, called the show intriguing.
“It's an interesting way of teaching kids that tobacco and alcohol are very bad for you,” she noted. “I've never seen this kind of thing live, and I think it's pretty cool. Those people are very talented, and it looks like they practice a lot.
“I've never smoked, or tried it, but I know kids who have,” she added. “I think (Coleman) was trying to scare these people a little bit, and I hope it's working. I think it may wake some people up. I know I've asked some of my family members to stop smoking, and it worked. I'm glad, because I want them around for a long time.”
Senior Jason Gormley admitted he didn't know the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' assembly was even being held until Monday morning.
“I'm really psyched; this is better than class,” he grinned. “I watch this stuff on ESPN during the X Games, and it's great! These extreme sports are exciting, and here it is, in our own parking lot … I've never used tobacco before, mostly because I know it hurts the lungs. I play football, basketball and lacrosse, so I want to be able to breathe.
“There's just no point to it. You know these guys don't smoke or chew. I'd love to be able to do that stuff, but I can't. I mean, I've skateboarded before, but never on a half-pipe.”
Just as Coleman announced that one person died of smoking every 6.6 seconds, sophomore Andrew Drapeau promised he'd never think of partaking, and that included chewing tobacco and snuff.
“I know it can kill you,” he shrugged. “Eventually, you could lose all your money. It's just a waste
to buy cigarettes or chew. I have friends who smoke, and I tell them they're stupid to their face. I don't want to see anything happen to them. I've seen a lot of this on commercials, and I learned about in health class, but I still found all those stats astonishing when I learned them.
“There are so many other diseases out there, and tobacco kills more people than those others. My mom and dad never smoked, and I've seen people who do, so I have a good comparison of what it's like. I'd rather go without.”
Shayer stated ASA Entertainment officials initially wanted the show to be conducted at Lincoln High.
“They had state testing this week, and they couldn't fit it in their schedule,” she revealed. “I talked to a woman with ASA Entertainment a few months ago, and she asked if we were interested in doing this. When she told me about the athletes, I thought, 'How does that relate to anti-tobacco use?' Then she told me more, and I understood.
“When I asked her about doing this in a neighboring town, North Smithfield, she asked how many students the district had, and I told her about 850. She wanted 1,000, but then she got back to me and said it was a 'go.' I was thrilled, as I knew this was extremely important.”
Yasutoko explained he never would have captured gold medals in X Games' in-line skating competitions if he had started using. He also indicated he's been involved with these athletic/educational sessions for several years.
“No, I don't smoke, and I've never chewed; it's bad for you,” he said afterward. “I've been a professional in-line skater since I was nine, and I always thought it was crazy to smoke. You have to be healthy to do these things, and – if I took tobacco – I couldn't. I can't believe people use when they know what it can do to you.
“This is very important to me, to all of us,” he continued. “We like doing these shows because we have to let people know how dangerous it is. At this age, they may want to experiment. Young people have a lot of possibilities in their future, so we're trying to tell them, 'Don't start. If you do, someday you're going to wish you didn't.'”
Stated Superintendent Lindberg: “We can't sing this song enough, this one about anti-tobacco. If we can get the kids to hear this message over and over again, it's worth it. They already hear it from their parents, their teachers and coaches and in their health and P.E. classes. They do a great job, but this just adds to that message.
“I guarantee those professional athletes don't smoke. When you have aspirations to be that kind of athlete, you can't. They have so much balance, stamina, strength and flexibility. With that endurance, they can't use … The message is getting out. I'm here after school, on the weekends and in the evenings, and I see fewer and fewer kids using tobacco.”
At exhibition's end, Coleman conducted a quiz to discover just how many students had paid attention to his mantra – and the statistics he delivered. To those who answered correctly, he issued a prize.
This contingent, over the past five weeks, had visited numerous schools nationwide. Most recent stops included Raleigh, N.C.; Philadelphia; Long Island, N.Y.; and New Haven and Hartford.
“These kids did great!” he stated as tour representatives began breaking down the equipment for more shows in Providence and, finally, Boston. “A lot of them knew the answers, so they were above average in that department. At some schools, you'll hear some wrong answers. They only missed a couple, so I'm proud of them.”