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Local Youngsters demonstrate the message--"Don't Follow the Pack" - SPORTS AND TOBACCO DON'T MIX

     A major event of the 1998 Youth Sports Initiative for Tobacco Control took place on Saturday, May 30--the State Finals Competition of the National "Diamond Skills Youth Baseball Competition," hosted by the Pawtucket Red Sox at McCoy Stadium. Participants and their families and friends had the chance to learn more about the dangers of tobacco use and why tobacco and sports don't mix. This event was partially funded by the Youth Sports Initiative for tobacco control, a joint project of the American Lung Association of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Recreation and Park Association, funded by the Rhode Island Department of Health/Project ASSIST.

The World Health Organization's World No-Tobacco Day on the following day, Sunday, May 31, also reminded kids that they need lungs that "feel healthy" in order to keep active and play sports. The lungs and heart of a child who smokes or is surrounded by other people's smoke do not work as efficiently as they should. A youth rally at the State House is being planned.

At McCoy Stadium on May 30 more than 100 boys and girls between 7 and 14 years old who have won competitions in their local communities in April and May (now going on-contact your local recreation department) will compete for a chance to represent Rhode Island at the New England finals at Fenway Park in June. In 1997 four youths went on to Fenway Park, and three of those on to the national finals at the All-Star game in Cleveland. In 1998 three RI youth went to the regional finals, and one on to the national finals. The Diamond Skills events include running for time between bases, batting for distance and accuracy, and fielding and throwing a ground ball to homeplate.

After the competitions for each age group, the youths and their families will check out the Lung Association's set of pigs' lungs, contrasting the healthy lungs that never breathed smoke withthe lungs of the animal forced to breathe smoke--tar-filled, stiff, shrunken, and showing a hard lump of lung cancer. The Health Department's "Mr. Grossmouth" model graphically demonstrated the hazards of smokeless tobacco. Kids pulled out the tongue of the model to examine the rotting teeth and gums and the mouth sores and cancers of a spit tobacco user. They also learned about sports figures who grew up using spit tobacco but have learned the dangers the hard way for themselves, such as Len Dykstra. In a media interview last year, Dykstra talked about forcing himself to chew tobacco because of the tough guy image until he was a two-tin-game addict. Then he got sores in his mouth and a lump had to be removed. He now makes public service announcements telling young people to "admire my hustle, admire my toughness, but not my habit."

The goal of the Youth Sports Initiative is to help reduce tobacco use by Rhode Island children and youth and reduce their exposure to environmental tobacco smoke by providng them with tobacco-free sports and recreation facilities and related events, as well as better adult and organizational role models. There are community-based advocacy and prevention activities going on in all communities. Anyone interested in getting involved should call the Lung Association at 421-6487. Scheduled future events include the 1999 Diamond Skills event and the Hershey Track and Field statewide meet in Cranston in July.

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