News and Events

Highlands Teens Tell Big Tobacco:
We are Not “Replacements”

March 29, 2014

The tobacco industry is losing customers. Not only are more smokers quitting, every day, an estimated 1,315 people in the United States die because of smoking. 

In response, the tobacco industry targets a new generation of potential nicotine addicts, which they call “replacement smokers.” A 1984 internal document from R.J. Reynolds’, the makers of Camel, stated: “Younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers… If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline, just as a population which does not give birth will eventually dwindle.”

On Kick Butts Day, Highlands’s Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Clubs throughout Florida spoke up and took action to let Big Tobacco know they will be not replacements. Kick Butts Day, which this year was celebrated on March 19, is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids national day of activism that empowers youth to fight back against Big Tobacco

Highlands Kick Butts Day

Highlands SWAT clubs were out on Spring Break for Kick Butts day, but celebrated on Saturday, March 29th at the Lakeshore Mall. Students met at 11am with “Not a Replacement Signs,” and held them up in the food court. Students were surprised at how many people stopped to ask them what their signs meant!  An example of one sign read, “I am NOT a Replacement, I am a High School Football Star!”

“This selfie statement is something fun and creative for the students to do, but is also a great way to raise awareness and have other students stop and ask questions like, ‘what does that mean?’” said Amanda John, Tobacco Prevention Specialist in Highlands County.

Highlands Kick Butts Day

“We are all excited to be doing this because many kids are becoming replacements and it’s saddening,” said Hailey Mitchell, President of the Sebring High School SWAT Club, The two newest members of the SHS SWAT club, Ronika & Joshua Etienne became a part of SWAT last week and showed up to the Kick Butts Day Event in full force. The brother and sister duo said they like volunteering and encouraging others. “I joined to see that others don’t start smoking because we are the future of tomorrow,” said Joshua Etienne.

For each smoking-related death, at least two youth or young adults become regular smokers each day. These young people rarely consider the long-term health consequences of smoking when they start. Because of nicotine, a highly addictive drug, three out of four youth continue smoking well into adulthood, often with serious and even deadly consequences. In fact, about half of long-term smokers will die prematurely from smoking-related causes.

Highlands Kick Butts Day

“Events like Kick Butts Day help youth understand that they are the targets of the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Barry Hummel of the Quit Doc Research and Education Foundation, which coordinates the Tobacco Free Partnership and SWAT in Highlands. “Nothing is more eye-opening to a teenager than to realize that they are being manipulated into making a bad decision, a decision that will have life-long consequences.  Sadly, teenagers still make up 85% of new tobacco users each and every year because of those impulsive decisions.”

“Youth have always been a target for the tobacco industry,” said Tobacco Free Florida Bureau Chief Shannon Hughes. “Numerous internal tobacco industry documents reveal that the tobacco companies perceived young people as an important target. They developed products, like flavored tobacco, and marketing campaigns aimed at teens.”

The fact is that nine out of 10 smokers start by age 18.  If current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million U.S. children alive today who are younger than 18 years of age will die prematurely as a result of smoking.

For information on the SWAT Program in Highlands County, you can contact Mrs. John at