February 16, 2020
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Skateboarders tout truth about tobacco use to youth

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Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN

BY WALTER GRIFFIN
FOR THE MIDCOAST BEACON

BELFAST — Crew members from the Truth Youth Smoking Prevention Tour flashed their stuff and hung out with the locals during their stop at the Eric R. Overlock Skatepark last week.

For the past month, tour members have traveled the country informing teens about tobacco issues in a nonpreachy way. They have hosted fashion shows, dance contests and freeway rap “battles,” and distributed gear such as shorts, T-shirts and drawstring bags. All of the items were created using designs cool enough for teens to wear while incorporating messages about tobacco use and the tobacco industry.

“We’re here to let kids know that the truth is around and we’re still alive and kicking. Ninety-nine percent of all the kids we talk to know about the truth through our truth.com Web site,” tour leader Scotty Batson of South Carolina said. “It’s amazing to see the positive response we’ve been getting. It’s a cutting edge message with a hint of rebellion. It’s okay to rebel as long as you know what you’re rebelling against, especially if it’s big tobacco.”

Batson said the tour was founded 10 years ago by the American Legacy Foundation and is funded through money obtained by 46 states through legal settlements with the large tobacco companies. Besides meeting teens at skate parks, teams of tour members attend music festivals and concerts.
According to research published in the in the American Journal of Public Health, there were approximately 450,000 fewer youth smokers between 2000 and 2004 as a direct result of the truth campaign, he said.

Batson said many of the crew members have been affected by tobacco. Some are former smokers, while others have lost family or friends to tobacco. The teams spread their message about tobacco in ways that resonate with teens, he said.

“We don’t really preach to them, we give them a great experience,” he said. “We use skating as kind of a lens to reach the kids. We also reach them through music, Motocross and BMX events.”

Felix Lamorena Jr., 25, of Los Angeles got involved with the truth when he attended the Vans Warped Tour last summer. When he later saw a job posting on Craig’s List, he decided to apply.

“I though it would be a really cool thing to do. My goal in life was always to attach a cause to my work — that was my dream,” Lamorena said. “When you talk to youth you realize you are making a difference. It definitely is an amazing opportunity for me.”

Lamorena recalled being exposed to smoking at the age of 6 when his 13-year old brother took up the habit. He said many of the kids he grew up with also smoked, but it was his brother’s use of tobacco that convinced him not to smoke.

“I’ve been around it since I was young. Have I tried it, yeah, but after seeing my brother spend his money on tobacco use, that was it,” he said.
Before arriving in Maine, the truth tour crew had visited skate parks in New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Montana and Idaho. Their first Maine stop was Lewiston, and they also planned to visit Portland, Auburn, South Paris and Oxford.

“We’re here to let people know about the truth, let people know what we are doing and also have some lobster,” Batson said. “You can’t come to Maine — not having ever been here — and not have lobster.”