THIRD STREET — Hoping to focus an anti-tobacco message at Santa Monica’s youth, a number of Los Angeles organizations have banded together to present the first ever World No Tobacco Day Text-2-Quit event, set to take place this Saturday on the eve of World No Tobacco Day.

Organized by BREATHE LA, a historic Los Angeles air quality and lung health advocacy organization, and by 4-U-N-I Teens Helping Teens Quit Smoking, a teen-to-teen anti-smoking program rooted in local high schools and supported financially by BREATHE LA, the event will bring together tobacco prevention organizations, health professionals and young people to spread awareness about the dangers of tobacco use.

The event will provide games, prizes and other youth-oriented activities, but with an important twist: participants will be challenged to send as many text messages — discouraging use of tobacco products — as they can while completing other lighthearted tasks such as playing ping-pong.

“We know that people who smoke tend to start at a very young age, most before they are 18,” said Tia McKinney, a BREATHE LA staffer who helped to organize the event. “Four thousand young people between the ages of 12 and 17 start smoking every year, and 1140 [of the same age group] become daily cigarettes smokers annually.”

McKinney said that the Text-2-Quit event was organized in response to statistics like these, explaining that the organization has sought to establish a presence in local high schools in an effort to tailor the anti-smoking campaign to those seemingly unaffected by other anti-tobacco messages.

“Most teenagers see anti-tobacco messages and are apathetic because the people featured in the messages are middle-aged,” said Dr. Guy Soo Hoo, a Los Angeles pulmonologist and a member of the BREATHE LA Board of Directors who will be speaking at Saturday’s event. “The target of the event is the young adult, and this is something that hasn’t been the focus in the past.”

Soo Hoo explained that most young people begin smoking because they feel a need to rebel, and do so at an age when they have a false sense of invincibility. He said that most smokers regret having started within a year or two of starting, but by that time, he said, quitting can be extremely difficult.

The event will also benefit from the help of local high school students, some of whom have taken a special interest in combating trends of teen smoking at the schools.

“I think most students do know that smoking is harmful, but they don’t care and they believe that it helps relieves stress,” said Chetana Singh, a senior at Beverly Hills High School and co-founder of the school’s 4-U-N-I chapter. “The point of opening the club was not just pointing fingers and saying ‘it’s bad for you.’ Most students who smoke do want to quit, but it’s really hard. We’re trying to provide resources to kids who want to stop.”

Singh said that some of the students she has met through the club have been successful at quitting, and their successes have inspired her to continue her work on the anti-smoking cause when she enters college next year.

“Earlier this year I was at a bus stop and a freshman at our school asked me if I was old enough to buy him cigarettes,” she said. “You don’t want to go up to someone that age and start telling them how unhealthy it is, so I talked to him and figured out why he had started, and suggested that he come to a club meeting. I’ve heard that he quit. I hope he did.”

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