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Anti-smoking messages will fill the air in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A state-funded anti-smoking campaign will roll into Aspen for ESPN’s Winter X Games to, oddly, counter the anti-smoking message that a tobacco company will aim at the X Games audience.

“Get R!EAL” will bring its road tour to Aspen High School on Friday and plans to have a presence in downtown Aspen on Saturday and Sunday, according to Grace Linn, tour manager.

Initially, Get R!EAL had hoped to bring its traveling teen lounge and anti-smoking message to Buttermilk, the venue for the X Games, but the $50,000 cost of a booth there drove the nonprofit effort to seek other options, Linn said.

Lorillard Tobacco Co., maker of several cigarette brands, including Kent and Newport, is a sponsor of the Winter X Games and will pitch its own anti-smoking initiative to youths at the event with its slogan, “Tobacco is Whacko If You’re a Teen.”

Critics claim that slogan imparts what could be construed as an enticing message ? that smoking is an adult thing to do.

“They’re in the business of selling tobacco,” notes Linn. The tobacco industry spends $2.8 million a week on advertising in Colorado, she said.

Get R!EAL (the acronym stands for Resist and Expose Advertising Lies) is an initiative aimed at telling teenagers the truth about tobacco industry advertising, according to Linn.

“We try to show them how the tobacco industry targets them,” she said. “Really, the point of this movement is to raise awareness ? get teenagers ticked off that the tobacco industry is trying to addict them to a deadly product.”

The Get R!EAL road show began last June and will wrap up this June. It has already made stops in more than 30 counties around the state and made contact with close to 14,000 youths in its target group ? 12- to 17-year-olds, Linn said.

A presence in Aspen for the Winter X Games weekend is a natural, given the Games’ enormous popularity among the younger set, she said.

“This particular event obviously came on our radar screen. We know there’ll be a lot of teens at this event,” she said.

ESPN was “extremely cooperative” in negotiations to provide Get R!EAL space at Buttermilk, but the $50,000 price is well beyond the nonprofit campaign’s financial ability, she said.

“The $50,000 was a very generous offer, compared to what other companies are paying, but it was just out of our reach,” Linn said.

Instead, the Get R!EAL lounge will be set up in the Aspen High School commons during the Friday lunch hour and the campaign is working with city officials to set up on the downtown malls for the weekend. The organization has also been in contact with the Aspen Skiing Co. in hopes of setting up in proximity to the “rail jam” planned Friday evening in the gondola plaza, Linn said.

“We know there’s going to be a lot of street traffic,” she said. “We want to have an opportunity to put our message in front of youth.”

The road show, with its traveling lounge, is headed up by three young adults who spread the tobacco education/prevention message and hand out gear like caribiners, water bottles and hacky sacks.

Get R!EAL is supported by the State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership, a program of the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment. Its funding comes from the 1998 master settlement agreement, the result of a lawsuit filed by 46 states against the tobacco industry.

According to its promotional material, Get R!EAL works on “raising awareness of ‘Big Tobacco’s’ manipulation of teens and encouraging youth to talk about the deadly effects of tobacco use.”

According to Lorillard’s Web site, its “Tobacco is Whacko” campaign is part of its Youth Smoking Prevention Program.

“Research shows that kids smoke because they believe it is attractive behavior and elevates their peer status,” the site explains. “The underlying objective of our youth-directed program, ‘Tobacco is Whacko If You’re a Teen,’ aims to alter these perceptions. We achieve this through cutting-edge print and broadcast advertising, coupled with initiatives that reinforce a nonsmoking message and reward kids who do not smoke.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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