About 75 children, ranging in age from about 6 to 10, gathered at Patterson Park yesterday to hear one group's version of the truth about tobacco.
The Truth Tour - a traveling, youth-led anti-tobacco campaign funded in part with money from a federal settlement with the tobacco industry - was launched in September and plans 1,500 stops in 27 U.S. cities. It hit Patterson Park with gifts, music and tobacco-bashing messages.
"I think we're important because we hit the streets and let people see a face behind the commercials," said Sandy Hostetlar, 24, of Ebensburg, Pa.
"This job hits home real hard, because I used to smoke," said Hostetlar, who began work with the campaign last month after answering a newspaper ad soliciting help. "I'm not going to just tell people I used to smoke, but if they ask me, I'm going to tell them about it."
She said she hopes the tour helps kids see that it's easier never to start smoking than to quit.
The children at the park were younger than the campaign's 12- to 17-year-old target age range, but they got the same message as other audiences.
Children were rewarded with T-shirts and necklaces for their participation in the tour bus' activities, which included listening to speeches and viewing the campaign's Web site. They were also encouraged to tear cigarette ads out of magazines and paste the ads on a board, with messages like "cigarettes killed my granddad."
The boards were the work of children whose relatives smoke. Hostetlar said they are usually the most receptive , because they have firsthand knowledge of the effects of smoking.
"All the people we've had have been positive, because there's not an old person shaking their finger at you, saying, 'You shouldn't do that'," said Eric Moss, 20, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "People like that we're not telling them what to do; we're giving them information."
Moss said he, like Hostetlar, began with the Truth Tour by answering a newspaper ad, but said the work "became my passion."
The Truth Tour, scheduled to stop in Washington today, will end in Chicago for the World Tobacco Conference on Aug. 6. Information: www.thetruth.com.