As 13-year-old Thadeus Kirkland lugged around a bucket filling up with discarded Esse cigarettes, he got a whiff of their stench. “It smelled like old coffee that had sat out for a long time, said Kirkland, a seventh-grader at Plaza Park Middle School.
He was one of 10 Evansville students who picked up cigarette butts around the Downtown YMCA Thursday afternoon as part of the YMCA’s annual Youth Summit. Although the group went around only the block, Kirkland estimated that alone he picked up “more than 50″ cigarettes that had been tossed into the street or onto the sidewalk.
Corey Cabell, 11, and Ken’Nyra Ware, 11, pick up cigarette butts along Northwest Fifth Street as part of the YMCA’s annual Youth Summit. The students picked up butts around one city block and were amazed at how many they found.
ERIN McCRACKEN / Courier & Press Thadeus Kirkland, 13 holds a bucket for Corey Cabell, 11 to put cigarette butts the teens were collecting off the sidewalks along the Downtown YMCA building as past of an exercise to promote smokefree living and good habits in teens.
The students also drew chalk outlines of their bodies on the sidewalk to represent the 27 Hoosiers who, according to the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Agency, die each day from tobacco-related illnesses.
They also signed pledges promising to remain tobacco-free.
“Our whole intention is to have youth lead other youth to let Big Tobacco know that they won’t fall for their tactics,” said Terri Brown, the program coordinator of Smokefree Communities of Vanderburgh County.
While the youths spent time scurrying around and laughing as they drew each other’s outlines on the sidewalks, organizers hoped they and the rest of the community would take a tangible message away from the exercise.
“A lot of people aren’t numbers folks so when you hear statistics, that’s one thing, but when you can actually see these figures out here I think that really strikes something. And for the kids to draw outlines of each other, I think it really hits home,” said Darin Lander, the community outreach branch executive director for the YMCA.
The effort came one day after the national “Kick Butts Day,” an annual effort that encourages youth to speak out against tobacco use.
Darin Lander, the community outreach branch executive director, said it’s important to encourage youth not to start smoking because they are already exposed to it at a young age, whether someone in their family smokes or not.
“There’s an initiative that’s also working that’s trying to get tobacco and smoking out of PG movies just because it impacts so many kids, he said. “It’s in so many younger movies and the kids see that and then they want to smoke.”
Picking up cigarettes was one of three community service projects that students from the Youth Summit participated in. Other students worked at the Caldwell Community Outreach Center and the Ark Crisis Child Care Center.