More than 200 teenagers from across Iowa will be at Grinnell College for a three-day anti-smoking conference starting this morning. C.J. Petersen is president of JEL, or Just Eliminate Lies, and says the 9th annual JEL Summit aims to help the high schoolers wage effective local campaigns to combat tobacco use in communities throughout Iowa.
Petersen says, "The JEL program’s goals are to educate teens about the dangerous effects of tobacco use and not just about the dangers, the facts, the fact the tobacco industry is manipulating youth, that they use youth as guinea pigs, really, they test products on us." Petersen, an Atlantic native and a student at Wartburg College, says the most recent survey from the Iowa Department of Public Health finds tobacco use among teens has risen slightly since 2004.
Twenty-two-percent of Iowa high school students reported they smoked cigarettes and nine-percent used smokeless tobacco. He says it’s important to reach these teens and for them to take the message back to their schools and communities. "We just want them to walk away understanding that the industry is out to addict them and once you’re addicted, you’re pretty much hooked for life," Petersen says. "We don’t want that to happen so we hope they come away from this inspired to teach other kids about that."
He says 50 people die in the U.S. every hour from diseases caused by tobacco use. The students will be putting their new skills to use on Thursday around noon by staging events in both Des Moines and Iowa City. Petersen says, "We’re going to do what’s called a flash mob and we’re going to storm the area, get a hundred kids on a street corner and 50 of them are going to ‘drop dead’ and that’s going to represent the 50 people who’ve died during this lunch hour." He says organizers of the JEL Summit want youth to know they can make a difference in their towns and in saving the lives of Iowans.
"Terrorists attacked us on Nine Eleven and that was 3,000 people in one day and that’s awful," Petersen says. "This is 1,200 people every day anyway. It’s 53,000 non-smokers per year, 400,000 per year total. It’s really a message we need to get out." JEL activities are funded by the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Division of Tobacco Use, Prevention and Control.