They showed the effects of smoking and chewing tobacco – worn teeth, cavities, gum disease, stained teeth and a black-coated tongue.
“Man, I’m glad I quit,” the 24-year-old Moab resident said.
Batwinas smoked for six years, but said moving to Logan for a period helped him stop the habit. Peer pressure there was the main reason, he said.
“Now I feel way healthier,” Batwinas said.
The exhibit was part of the June 5 Rule the Rocks skateboard and BMX bike competition in Moab. It was the sixth time the Utah Department of Health sponsored a series of contests throughout the state aimed at educating youths about the dangers of smoking and chewing tobacco.
“When they register, we talk to them about tobacco,” said Adam Bramwell of the state health department and an organizer of last week’s competition.
Ninety percent of adult smokers began lighting up before age 19 and one in three will die of their addiction, according to the department.
“Kids in the extreme sport lifestyles are at higher risk,” Bramwell said, “and kids in rural towns are also at higher risk. The tobacco industry’s manipulations are designed to reach deep into rural communities and grab kids with alternative interests, getting them hooked on tobacco while they’re young.”
Rule the Rocks was a youth-oriented event at Swanny City Park’s skateboard park. Classic rock by Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Led Zeppelin blared from speakers as kids practiced their tricks before the contest. Health department representatives handed out buttons that said, “Send Cigarettes Packing.”
Melissa Abeyta drove from Grand Junction, Colo., to watch her 12-year-old nephew, Trent Elmore, compete.
“I’m all for promoting anti-tobacco,” she said.
Karisa Alvey of Moab brought her 11-year-old son, Morgan, to the park. Like Abeyta, she said she liked the message from contest organizers.
Morgan Alvey pledged that he would never begin smoking, saying, “It’s bad for your lungs.”
Organizers used several incentives to earn non-smoking pledges from the kids. They handed out free T-shirts and bottles of water as encouragement.
“We’ve been telling them not to smoke and making them promise,” said Brinton Newland, one of the adults running the contest.
At least one Moab teen believes the message is starting to sink in among youths.
“Nowadays [tobacco use] has really gone down,” said Christian Domenick, 16. “I think things like this help.”