Teens are “kicking butts” — 86 percent of Massachusetts youth don’t smoke, according to The 84, a statewide anti-smoking group. On the North Shore, Peabody, Danvers and Swampscott teens have launched their own chapters of the group and joined 200 of their peers for a day at the Statehouse.
The teens point to e-cigarettes, tobacco products flavored like candy, product placement in stores and all manner of flashy packaging as evidence Big Tobacco wants them as customers.
Alyssa Rice and Ali DeMeo, freshmen at Peabody High, recalled how they went into a local 7-Eleven store recently and spotted colorful Hookah Pens on display right next to the candy at the counter. They were 89 cents each.
Hookah Pens are e-cigarettes, which are marketed as a safe alternative to cigarettes and to help smokers quit the habit. But they also just look like pens, and health officials are concerned teens are unaware of the harmful levels of nicotine.
There is no federal or state law restricting age on an e-cigarette sale. Anyone can buy one for less than a dollar each, says Sandi Drover, the outreach coordinator for the Healthy Peabody Collaborative.
Rice, DeMeo and 10 other Peabody students started a school 84 chapter after meeting with program representatives last month.
The 84 program, launched by state health officials seven years ago, was named for the 84 percent of youth who didn’t smoke at the time, according to surveys. The annual Kick Butts Day is in its 19th year and part of a national awareness campaign.
The 84’s goal is to respond to advertising aimed at young customers by engaging with youth directly and encouraging students to take action. This is mainly done via 84 chapters at high schools or other civic organizations.
Students in Danvers started an 84 chapter a couple weeks ago, said Jason Verhoosky of DanversCares. Five freshmen who are part of the coalition’s Youth Leadership Board likewise visited Beacon Hill Wednesday for Kick Butts Day.