(CNSNews.com) - This is a busy week for groups seeking to mold the minds of the nation's schoolchildren: An anti-tobacco group has declared Wednesday "Kick Butts Day" -- a time when thousands of schoolchildren across America will "take center stage in the fight against tobacco."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids says some 2,000 events are planned in all 50 states. Those events include anti-tobacco school assemblies, classroom art projects, no-smoking pledge drives, athletic competitions -- even mock trials of the Marlboro Man.
In Des Moines, Iowa, more than 150 young people will attend a training session, then meet with state leaders to press for an increase in the cigarette tax. They'll hold a press conference at the State Capitol with Lt. Gov. Sally Peterson and others, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids announced.
In Boston, a group called Bold Teens Against Tobacco will gather after school to "explore what's really in a cigarette, erect a graffiti wall that expresses their feelings about tobacco industry marketing and manipulation, make pledges to help family and friends quit smoking, and hold an anti-tobacco ad contest."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says children will be sending "two powerful messages" on Wednesday: "They want the tobacco industry to stop targeting them with marketing for cigarettes and other tobacco products, and they want elected officials to do more to protect them from tobacco."
This year, "adding to the excitement," Olympic gold medal swimmer Natalie Coughlin will serve as national spokesperson for Kick Butts Day. Coughlin won five medals -- two gold, two silver and a bronze -- at the Athens Olympics last summer.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids points to a recent government survey showing that recent progress in reducing tobacco use among young people has slowed considerably or stalled.
The national smoking rate for high school students -- which peaked at 36 percent in 1997 -- has declined to 22 percent, the Campaign noted. But the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found no significant changes in youth smoking rates between 2002 and 2004.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids puts some of the blame on states that have cut funding for tobacco prevention programs, as well as higher marketing expenditures by tobacco companies.
"More than two-thirds of all tobacco marketing dollars is spent on cigarette price discounts and free cigarette giveaways that make cigarettes more affordable to kids, who are very price-sensitive," the Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids said.
"On Kick Butts Day, kids are standing up to the tobacco companies and demanding that public officials join with them by supporting proven tobacco prevention measures," said William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"The dramatic progress our nation has made since the first Kick Butts Day ten years ago shows that we know how to reduce tobacco use," Corr added.
"But the recent CDC survey is a wakeup call to elected officials that they cannot take continued progress for granted and must redouble efforts to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including tobacco tax increases, well-funded tobacco prevention programs, and smoke-free air laws."
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