Fifth graders at Delaware Elementary School paraded down their hallways Thursday holding signs with anti-tobacco messages and chanting "Be Smart! Don't Start!" Thursday was the Great American Smokeout, which encourages tobacco users to take those first steps toward quitting.
Director of Tobacco Health Systems at St. Joseph's Health Chris Owens says early intervention is key to preventing tobacco addiction later.
"Starting the messaging early is important so these kids grow up understanding that tobacco products are harmful and addictive," Owens said.
"We know that smoking is bad for you," Mayor Ben Walsh told the students. "We know that vaping is bad for you. You might hear a rumor that vaping is different or not as bad. It's all bad. As we've been chanting, you don't want to start. Once you start, it's hard to stop."
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon quizzed the fifth graders.
"Are you going to be in this building next year?" he asked. "No," they replied.
"Are you going to be with some older kids?" "Yes," the students answered.
"Are there going to be people who want you to make bad choices?" McMahon asked. "Yes," the 5th graders said.
"Are you going to make bad choices?" "No!" The children replied.
"We're going to give you the tools you need to make good choices. When it comes to cigarettes, vaping, e-cigarettes, that's a very poor choice."
The average age a person starts smoking is 13. In 2019, 27.5 percent of high school students reported vaping as opposed to only 5.8 percent who smoke traditional cigarettes. However, for the first time in Onondaga County, the adult smoking rate has dropped to 17.2 percent, which officials attribute mainly to the passing of the Tobacco 21 law.