Tyler Consolidated Seniors Karlie Hilpert and Montana Morris have taken their anti-tobacco message out of the schools and into the streets as part of a statewide campaign aimed at raising awareness among teenagers.
Raze, West Virginia's youth-led tobacco prevention movement, recently released a media campaign which features teens from around the state who are telling their personal stories about how tobacco has affected their lives - among these stories are those of Hilpert and Morris.
Hilpert and Morris furthered their involvement with the Raze program at a kick-off event held in Charleston. "We had the opportunity to participate in various 'commotions' which are campaigns to raise awareness," Morris explained. "One of the commotions was to get on camera and tell how tobacco has affected you."
Karlie Hilpert and Montana Morris, senior members of RAZE from Tyler Consolidated High School, had the honor of having their photgraphs displayed at the Grand Central Mall. The students took part in a RAZE photo shoot and an anti-tobacco commercial eariier this fall.
Both Hilpert and Morris were chosen to participate as a result of their video. The resulting campaign, dubbed "I did it," was launched in August 2010 and included television commercials, print ads, mall displays, movie theater advertising and sponsored local events.
"The 'I did it' campaign has been very successful in getting the word out to students and adults alike," commented Club Advisor Bob Allen. "It has been shown on TV stations throughout the state and in the print media as well as in malls throughout the state. It is such an honor to have one student to have been selected to represent our region and state, but to have two from a small school, is tremendous."
He added, "We are in the same region as Morgantown and Wheeling and Clarksburg all of which have much larger school and Raze Crews. I am very proud of these girls and all of the members of our RAZE crew."
Morris' decision to live tobacco-free was after her grandfather passed away. "The summer before my freshman year my grandpa died," she explained. "He smoked his whole life."
"One day he fell and was injured. He needed surgery, but because his blood was too thin from smoking all the cigarettes he couldn't undergo the procedure. Then his lungs collapsed in the hopistal. He was on a venilatlor in intensive care for weeks. Watching him die like that was awful," Morris said.
After school started that year, the students were given the opportunity to sign up for clubs. Morris said her decision was simple. "Raze was anti-tobacco. I joined for my grandpa and I got really involved with the program."
Hilpert didn't get involved until her sophomore year, but said her decision to bet involved was based on peer pressure. "I joined Raze because I saw more and more of my friends starting to use tobacco. I hate the thought of peer pressure at school," she said. "I have friends and people in my family who use tobacco. But I've always been against it."
While Hilpert says her decision to remain tobacco-free is easy and she doesn't feel pressured to start, she sees the affects of manipulation on others. Morris says she can feel the pressure more when she is put in certain situations. "I go to MOVTI where I take an automotive repair class," she said. "I'm on a bus with all these guys and most of them rub. They are always saying 'hey, I'll give you $10 if you can keep this rub in your mouth. It's little things like that - you wouldn't think anything of it, but it's so easy to become addicted to it."
For this reason, both girls make an effort to talk to their peers asking tobacco use as often as they can. "At the Magnolia/Tyler game I set up a booth to sell chocolate covered pretzels and I had some phamplets set out. I had a couple people tell me they used tobacco. They were resistant at first, but then they read some of the information," Hilpert said.
"I was just talking to someone this morning and they said they tried smoking over the weekend," Hilpert commented. "I said 'do't keep doing it!' It's a waste of money. There are so many better things to spend your money on."
"And it's not just money wasted in cigarettes, but look at the money you're going to spend on medical bills," Morris added.
Encouraging long-term thinking among teens who are prone to 'live in the moment' is what sets Raze apart from other clubs. Morris attributes her glimpse into the future to a guest speaker who shared his story her sophomore year. "He had a tracheostomy. That had a big impact. He was up there talking through a hole in his throat," she said. "But that's the type of things that we do to raise awareness."
This year the club will work hand-in-hand with Tyler County Relay for Life, with a goal of raising $750 for the program through fundraising activities. "We are more involved with Relay For Life this year. We have already had several fundraisers," Allen said.
Raze is represented in all 55 West Virginia counties. Since its inception in 2001, nearly 15,000 teens have helped in the fight against Big Tobacco.
Ads featuring photographs of Hilpert and Morris are on display at Grand Central Mall in Vienna, W.Va. With its newest campaign, Raze is giving a voice to a generation that is still very affected by tobacco use and giving a face to the tobacco prevention movement. From the tragic to the inspiring, these stories tell the truth about tobacco - for users and for their loved ones.
For more information on the campaign and the program, please visit www.razewv.com.