www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/belair/ph-ag-kick-butts-day-0322-20130320,0,5158655.story

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Harford fifth-, sixth-graders 'kick butt' with anti-smoking pledge

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

1:59 PM EDT, March 21, 2013

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It's lights out for smoking in Harford County, or so the county's health department is hoping with a new program pushing fifth- and sixth-grade students not to smoke.

The county was one of the most active jurisdictions in Maryland for this year's National Kick Butts Day, which was held Wednesday and is devoted to "involving and encouraging youth to seize control against tobacco," according to the Harford County Health Department's web site.

Two prominent events this week showcased the local initiative of getting pre-teens to refrain from ever lighting up.

On Wednesday, at its headquarters in Edgewood, the health department unveiled banners with thousands of signatures from local fifth- and sixth-graders who have pledged not to smoke.

The program has not necessarily been an easy sell, as some students chose not to make the pledge, coordinator Dorothy Ruff said during a press conference attended by local public health officials, educators and medical professionals.

"Harford County has a history of tobacco farming," she noted, explaining that many people are used to having generations of smokers in their families and communities who are reluctant to quit.

On Monday, Bel Air Middle School students hung anti-smoking posters and T-shirts in the school's main hallway to "air out tobacco's dirty laundry" and publicize statistics of the dangers of tobacco, according to a press release.

That project was sponsored by the school's group Students Taking a Responsible Stand.

Health department officials have visited schools throughout the county to educate students about the negative impact of tobacco and tried to get them to pledge to never try smoking.

"In a county with one of the highest rates of adult cigarette use in Maryland, the Harford County Health Department urges public awareness of the tobacco problem in Harford County and encourages youth to stay tobacco-free and avoid becoming a part of tobacco addiction, morbidity and mortality statistics," a news release for Wednesday's event stated.