FREEPORT — On a busy pre-holiday afternoon downtown, students from Freeport, Mount Ararat and Brunswick high schools gathered to protest tobacco companies that market to young people.
The students held up signs, chanted anti-smoking slogans and distributed informational brochures.
Freeport High School student Bryn Gallagher said the public responded well to the demonstration.
“It is very important for high school students to take a stand in this way,” she said. “We really can make an impact in our communities.”
She said nearly a dozen students stood in front of the Ben & Jerry’s shop on Main Street to refute the claims of the big tobacco companies and share the dangers of smoking.
Josh Charette, a sophomore at Brunswick High School, said there were a few people who didn’t appreciate their efforts, but most passers-by offered encouragement.
“It makes me happy to know we may have made a difference in some of the people who saw us,” he said. “What we are doing can cause an effect.”
The students from the three high schools are members of the Youth Advocacy Program coordinated by Melissa Brown of Access Heath at Midcoast Hospital in Brunswick.
Brown said she works with the students to help promote healthy living and to discuss ways to benefit from leading a healthy lifestyle.
“We discuss everything from physical activity, substance abuse, nutrition and stress maintenance,” Brown said. “Freeport High School students feel passionately about preventing smoking in teens so this is one of the activities we organized to take their knowledge public.”
Myra Hopkins, executive director of the Freeport Merchants Association, said the protest was important because teens are especially vulnerable to peer pressure.
“I think knowledge is power,” she said. “I am thrilled the high school is actively involved with smoking cessation and tobacco information.”
She said the town and businesses in Freeport are associated with Healthy Casco Bay and the School Department is involved with Access Health at Midcoast.
Healthy Casco Bay is funded with tobacco settlement money from the Fund for a Healthy Maine.
Jim Tasse is the project director of Healthy Casco Bay and works with Brown on the local student projects. Their mission is similar to Access Health at Midcoast Hospital – to reduce tobacco use and to promote healthy living through exercise and nutrition.
Charette said each week the three Brunswick High School students who are involved in the Youth Advocacy Program meet with Brown to “try to think about change.”
“We focus on wellness issues and healthy eating,” he said. “We will discuss racism next.”
Gallagher said there are 10 members of Youth Advocacy Program at Freeport High School, but she is hoping other students will soon join.
She said the group’s upcoming projects will include visiting local elementary schools and giving them healthy lifestyle presentations.
“Smoking is not our core focus, but the protest was a great experience” she said. “I met students from other schools and made new friends with similar interests.”
Students involved in the Youth Advocacy Program at Mount Ararat, Brunswick and Freeport high schools gathered in downtown Freeport Dec. 23 to protest tobacco company policies. The students included Julia Brown, left, of Brunswick, Kayla and Whitney Bibeau of Freeport, Josh Charette of Brunswick and Kaylon Brown of Freeport.