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Teenagers with a cause defy stereotypes

Teenagers are spearheadingefforts to make a difference.

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Youth, Oscar Wilde observed, is America's oldest tradition, adding, "It has been going on now for 300 years." But continuity is no guarantee of approval, and youth continues to be a tradition burdened by ambivalence. Generation after generation of former teenagers conveniently forget their own adolescent behavior as they wring their hands over what they see as excesses. All that energy! All that drinking and smoking and sex and fast driving! What, some wonder, is the country coming to?

Yet anyone harboring too many negative stereotypes should reconsider their prejudices this weekend as teenagers across the country spearhead two impressive efforts to make a difference.

Beginning Feb. 25, more than a thousand teenagers in Florida will gather in Tarpon Springs, on the state's west coast, to marshal forces against the tobacco industry. For four days, as part of the second annual Teen Tobacco Summit, they plan to teach their peers how to rebel against smoking and undermine sales pitches by "Big Tobacco."

As 17-year-old Chrissie Scelsi, a group leader, says, "The tobacco industry knows it is about to lose a lot of customers. They're going to turn up the heat on us. We have to be ready."

Within the past year, Chrissie points out, members of the group have written more than 20,000 postcards to Hollywood stars, asking them to portray tobacco use accurately. Last autumn, in surveying convenience stores around the state, they found cigarettes and tobacco ads often displayed near candy or at child's-eye level.

The summit is funded by the Florida Tobacco Pilot Program, created by the state's historic $13 billion settlement with the tobacco industry in 1997.


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