GONZALES — A group of Ascension Parish teens thought it was time to clear the air about the dangers of smoking.
The event came as the culmination of months of work by nine Ascension Parish teens who went door-to-door to local convenience stores to document the ways tobacco companies advertise cigarettes, event organizers said.
“It was an eye-opener,” said 14-year-old Tatiana Emerson.
It was Tatiana’s second year to work on the project.
The group, led by adult coordinator Kisha Ricks, found that every store surveyed had tobacco advertisements either at child’s eye level — below 36 inches — within 6 inches of candy or near the cash register, where children are most likely to see them.
In addition, nearly half of the stores advertised a special price or offer for cigarettes inside the store.
Ricks said the ultimate goal of the program is to get the information out to a community she feels is uninformed about many of the dangers of smoking.
“We know smoking causes cancer, but they don’t know things like you could get hair on your tongue. The more knowledge you have, the better you’ll be,” Ricks said.
The program is still relatively small, but Ricks is optimistic about its future after seeing it grow from an original group of only two participants last year when they had to share a town hall meeting with another group from East Baton Rouge.
But the project wasn’t all smooth sailing for the group.
Several stores refused to let them conduct their study, much to the dismay of the children.
“I’m like, ‘But I’m trying to help y’all, I’m trying to help myself and others,’ ” Tatiana said. “I’m speechless because that’s how passionate I am about this.”
Ricks said she tried to explain to the group that not everyone would be as receptive to the study as they were, but she thinks it’s still moving in the right direction. It’s only a matter of time, she said.
The project hasn’t yet garnered the widespread interest from public officials for which the group aspires, but the information is slowly creeping into the homes of some of the participants, she said.
Bryan Newell’s daughter Asa and son Kameron both completed the Defy the Lies study, which has forced him to cut back on the occasional cigar.
“They see me smoking a cigar and they say, ‘That’s not good for you. Tobacco kills,’ ” Newell said. “I would like to see more kids involved so more kids could have this exposure. It makes them feel good about what they’re doing.”