Coming soon to a theater near you: anti-tobacco ads created by Berkeley teen-agers.
Tuesday evening, the tobacco prevention program run by the city and school district presented awards to 40 young people whose artwork may help deter their peers from using tobacco in its various forms.
Drawing on a personal encounter with the health risks posed by tobacco, Berkeley Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek told the students about her 76-year-old brother, who suffers from emphysema.
“He wishes that he had never seen a cigarette, but it’s too late,” she said during the ceremony in the Berkeley Adult School auditorium. “I’m glad that many of you have decided not to smoke, and to have good health, and I hope we get many more young people who decide never to smoke.”
The students were among 240 young people who entered an art competition sponsored by the Artists Resisting Tobacco Project, part of the tobacco prevention program.
The entries – from middle school, high school and college students – depicted anti-tobacco messages, primarily through posters, although a few three-dimensional entries were also recognized.
Each of the 40 winners received $40 in gift certificates: $20 from Amoeba Music, and $20 from United Artists cinemas.
The awards ceremony coincided with today’s recognition as World No Tobacco Day, an annual event organized by the World Health Organization. This year’s focus is on the prominence of tobacco use in the entertainment industry, particularly in top-grossing movies.
And this is where the decision to give the competition winners United Artists gift certificates comes into play. The local UA venue on Shattuck Avenue has agreed to turn some of the winning artwork into slides that will appear on the movie screen before the film starts – right up there with the reminders to avoid chatting and to buy popcorn.
“We’re concerned about what kind of impact cigarette smoking in films has on our kids,” said Pauline Bondonno, coordinator of the Artists Resisting Tobacco project.
City officials cited studies showing that a disproportionate number of characters in major motion pictures are seen smoking cigarettes and cigars. One study conducted by the Sacramento-Emigrant Trails chapter of the American Lung Association determined that leading actors used tobacco in 52 percent of the top 50 movies between May 1998 and April 1999. A UC San Francisco professor found that nearly 80 percent of the male stars in films from the 1990s were seen smoking, even though only about 25 percent of the male population in this country smokes.
Health advocates say such depictions can make an impression on young people that smoking is cool, regardless of the health risks. They also cite studies claiming that 90 percent of all smokers in this country started smoking as teen-agers.
The local tobacco prevention program is funded through Proposition 99, the tobacco tax measure passed by California votes in 1988.
“I think it’s fitting that this program was actually funded from the smokers in California,” said Program Director Marcia Brown-Machen.
The 40 winning entries, along with 25 runners-up, will be displayed in the Addison Street Windows, located on Addison between Milvia Street and Shattuck Avenue, beginning Thursday and continuing through June 19.
“The great joy for me has been working with all the teens and young people who have created all this wonderful art,” Bondonno said.