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TEMPO campaigns against teen tobacco use

The youth action group TEMPO — Teens Empowering and Motivating their Peers to Opt out — are putting their message where their mouth is by encouraging teens not to take up chewing tobacco.

TEMPO is in its second year as a teen tobacco risk awareness program, made possible through a grant through the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority. The group YEP! — Youth Empowerment Program — was also created through the grant and helps TEMPO get the word out about the risks involved with using tobacco, especially among teens.

“This week is ‘Through with Chew’ Week,” said Malaika Lomax, a TEMPO advisor and an advisor for the teen group Divas 4 Life. “We recognize that not only do people smoke cigarettes, but they also chew non-cigarette products. That’s important, because they affect you just as much as cigarettes do.

“That’s what we want everyone to know, that it’s not just cigarette smoking that’s harmful, but it’s also the chewing tobacco and the snuff that’s harmful as well.”

TEMPO put up a display at Demopolis High School on Monday to help make students aware of the harms involved with using tobacco. The table had pamphlets and brochures as well as models showing healthy lungs and lungs after tobacco use.

“In a lot of areas, and even here in Demopolis, as an alternative to smoking, students chew a lot,” said Loretta Young of the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority and the project manager of the TEMPO program.

“The state of Alabama has found from research that people are dying from dipping and chewing more than they are from smoking. People think that it is an alternative to smoking, so they think that they won’t get the cancer or the emphysema. They think that, since there is no second-hand smoke effect, that it won’t hurt anyone. It is a big problem.”

Members of TEMPO and YEP! also made a trip to the state House of Representatives in Montgomery on Feb. 17 to witness legislative action on House Bill 490, making public places and workplaces smokefree in Alabama. Senate Bill 130 seeks the same result. Both bills are still active in the legislature.

Loretta Wilson of the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority and Ed Ward of the Theo Ratliff Activity Center attended the legislative session with the groups. The groups from Demopolis were joined by several similar groups from around the state to encourage the legislature to pass the smokefree bills.

“More than 100 youth were present at the rally in Montgomery,” Wilson said. “The bill was being presented that day to the House. We feel that if the youth speak out about what they’re seeing in their communities, hopefully, the legislators will hear them.”

Students from across the state expressed their views about tobacco use in the homes and in their communities.

“Some even expressed personal feelings, like things that happened to their family members who smoked,” Young said.

The youth were able to hear Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), who introduced the bill to the Senate, and Dr. Mike Honan, who gave a presentation about the health issues associated with tobacco use. The groups also spoke with State Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Demopolis), who supports the bill.

“It was a very, very good turnout,” Wilson said. “We left there energized, knowing even more that this is truly an issue that Alabama needs to deal with.”