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Teens take on Hollywood

By Justin Dragos | Special to the Vermont Guardian

Posted April 19, 2007

In 1999, 31 percent of Vermont teens smoked. Today, that number is half that and the Vermont Department of Health is teaming up with teenagers across the state to bring that rate down even further.

The number one target of this new effort is movies. “Research shows us that four out of five American movies contain tobacco use of some kind,” said Sherri Lyn, Vermont’s tobacco control chief. “And teenagers, as they tell us themselves, spend a lot of time watching them.”

By exposing the influence of tobacco use in films, the department hopes to make kids less susceptible to its sway.

The health department’s goal is to bring the current teen smoking rate of 16 percent down to 15 percent by 2010.

In a fresh approach to anti-smoking campaigns, the department’s main projects this year are the result of direct collaboration with high school students. “We wanted to find the best way to reach teenagers,” said Lyn. “So what better way then to involve them directly in creating the campaign?”

In addition to working directly with teens on the creative process, the department surveyed hundreds of other teens, gaining insight into their “tech-savvy generation.”

“These efforts reinforced the importance of connecting with teens where they spend their free time — and that is often going to the movies, watching TV, or on the Internet,” said Lyn.

Rebecah Carstairs, a Burlington High School student, is among those who’ve volunteered their insight. She and other fellow students are part of a panel designed to give feedback into specific projects.

“One of the things we did was help come up with some commercials,” said Carstairs. “They asked us what we thought about some ideas, and we told them some ideas of our own.”

Carstairs believes the campaign is more authentic as a result of this input.

“I think it’s a really good idea because it’s made by teenagers so it’ll get across to teenagers.”

In addition to television spots, these commercials will air in Vermont theatres before the beginning of teen-oriented movies. They’ll be accompanied by slides with questions and answers about smoking.

While this is the first time they’ve worked on such a large scale media campaign, many of the students involved have been spreading awareness about smoking for years through what’s known as Our Voices Exposed (OVX) groups. OVX, funded by the health department, is a peer education program run by teenagers in 14 high schools throughout Vermont. Through it, kids are empowered to inform their peers in a constructive way about the dangers of smoking.

Recently, the teens involved in OVX have come up with a new, and creative, way to spread their word — an interactive website called OVX studios. The site gives teens the chance to direct and produce their own movies, selecting the scenes, cast, and plot. As part of the production process they are given the option to add product placements (including cigarettes) in their film letting them see first hand how Big Tobacco can slither its way into Hollywood.

OVX is organizing a mock Oscar night where kids will win prizes for the best movie. Among the other projects in the works as part of the “Butts of Hollywood” campaign are a talent and costume show, and a debate night discussing whether an “R” rating should be added to movies depicting actors smoking.

For more information, go to www.ovx.org.