Area high school students likely will learn a lesson or two Friday from an anti-tobacco crusader who started smoking at 14 and had his vocal cords removed in his 40s because of cancer.
Don Young, now 57, an assembly repairman for Ford Motor Co. in St. Louis, is the keynote speaker at a statewide Smoke-free Teens Are Rising Rally at DeSoto High School. He is able to speak through an electronic larynx.
About 300 students from DeSoto, Oskaloosa, Louisburg and nearby communities are expected to attend the event organized by the Teens Against Smoking in Kansas, said Sally Head of the American Lung Assn. in Topeka.
"Hopefully, kids will open their eyes, and they will realize that smoking isn't cool," she said.
For the past five years, TASK has led a large statewide rally in Topeka. This year, DeSoto is one of six communities, along with Hutchinson, Colby, Pittsburg, Manhattan and Garden City, conducting a rally this month, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Heather Clay, an outreach coordinator for Kansas Smokeless Kids Initiative in Topeka, said Young's speech greatly affected students at the first rally earlier this month in Hutchinson. He received a standing ovation.
"It was just incredible," Clay said. "I personally almost started crying."
Young also shows a graphic slide presentation of friends and fellow cancer victims who died from their tobacco addictions.
After Young's 9:30 a.m. speech, Clay said, students will have three group sessions where they will learn how to plan anti-smoking events and initiate policy changes.
She said the idea is for students to take the prevention methods back to their community and organize an activity for National Kick Butts Day, April 4.
"The TASK's message is about youth empowerment," she said. "It's not 'you're a bad person for smoking.' It's about how you can make a difference in your community and how the tobacco industry manipulates their products to make kids cool or happy."