Char-Koosta News

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Kids learn to Kick Butts in Riverside Park

By Diana Schwab

One of the students holds up a mask they made prior to the ciggy butts event, mostly to keep toxic fumes out, but also to send a message:  “Life is special! Don’t waste it on drugs!” (courtesy photos) One of the students holds up a mask they made prior to the ciggy butts event, mostly to keep toxic fumes out, but also to send a message: “Life is special! Don’t waste it on drugs!” (courtesy photos)

POLSON — Kick Butts Day is a national day of action that gives youth an opportunity to stand out, speak up and seize control against Big Tobacco. In more than 1,000events in schools and communities across the United States and even around the world, students plan activities that expose and counter the aggressive marketing tactics of corporate tobacco, of which they are often the target.

The core of most cigarette filters – the part that looks like white cotton, is actually a form of plastic called cellulose acetate. Depending on the conditions of where the filter is discarded, like how much water is available, it can take 18 months to 10 years for a cigarette filter to decompose, according to Quitsmoking.about.com. Because cigarette filters are designed to absorb the toxins in cigarette smoke and collect solid particles like tar, they are chalked full of poisons. These toxin-filled cigarette butts get into our waterways mainly through storm drains that dump into streams and lakes. Small aquatic marine life, fish and especially water birds are among those most affected by this pollutant. Thousands of sea birds die annually when they mistake them for food, according to Thebaynet.com

Here in Polson, students chose the activity of burning this most toxic waste product as their Kick Butts Day activity to illustrate not only the many carcinogens in them, but also to bring attention to how commonly it is littered. They collected cigarette butts on the walk down to Riverside Park, and along with other butts that had been collected earlier in the year, burned them at Riverside Park in mid-March. They wore surgical masks with health warnings on them, for protection and to get a point across. These students from Polson Middle School wanted to bring attention to this widespread, yet little known, environmental health problem. Dennis Johnson, youth coordinator for the Lake County Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention Program facilitated the butt-burning activity. It turned out to be one of the nicest days this spring so far.

Dennis Johnson, youth coordinator for the Lake Co. Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention Program, talks to students from Polson Middle School about the burning of the many cigarette butts gathered from the streets of Polson on March 12. (courtesy photos) Dennis Johnson, youth coordinator for the Lake Co. Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention Program, talks to students from Polson Middle School about the burning of the many cigarette butts gathered from the streets of Polson on March 12. (courtesy photos)

Beforehand, Dennis asked the students if they thought the cigarette butts would burn in a fire, or just remain intact. Most thought that they would burn. And they did, almost - yet they maintained their cylindrical shape.

Students also painted healthy messages on the air-filter masks they donned for the butt-burning activity. After all, the fumes coming off the burning of these small, toxic pieces of fiber and plastics are not for breathing in, or for any kind of consumption for that matter.

It was a beautiful day along the Flathead River that day, where not only was a public statement made, but students also got to cook s’mores and eat pizza by the other two fire pits that did not contain any ciggy butts what-so-ever. By having students pick up the many littered cigarette butts along the streets of Polson, wearing masks to exemplify avoiding the toxic fumes, and talking to a newspaper reporter about the activity and why they were participating in it; all of these will help ensure these young people never take up the addictive habit of smoking.

Everything – absolutely everything – about cigarettes threatens every living thing on our planet, including us. If you are a smoker thinking about quitting, take steps today to put out that last cigarette. Call the Montana Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW of visit www.QuitNowMontana.com for help quitting. Start that new chapter in your life, one free of guilt and worry. One that is filled with the self-empowerment that smoking cessation brings.

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