NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Nearly 9 out of 10 adult cigarette smokers first tried tobacco by the age of 18. That's why a state wide program committed to preventing teens from using tobacco held a summit in East Texas on Saturday.
"We don't believe in the idea of youth being leaders of tomorrow, we believe in youth being leaders today," said Reggie Cajayon, program manager for Youth Tobacco Prevention.
A tobacco-free Texas would be a dream come true for those who attended the 'Say What!' action summit in Nacogdoches. The event forces teens to face the facts when it comes to tobacco usage.
"I see the facts right in front of me," Jair Hilburn, a high school student said. "It's introduced to us in a variety of ways that interest me, that catch my attention, and it just helps me process the information even more."
"If we can keep young people from using tobacco products until age 18, we can protect them from becoming addicted and never having to deal with cancer, and all the other issues that come from being addicted to tobacco products," Cajayon said.
A powerful message presented in a variety of ways, ranging from serious and impactful, to fun and playful.
"It's really refreshing because they offer such a direct prospective on what's going on in their communities," Kimmy Davis, a consultant with 'Say What' said. "So it gives us an idea of how we can better help them."
"Being here is really a great experience and I'm really glad that I came," Hilburn said.
The service-learning portion of the summit is where teens will pick up cigarette buds and replace them with flags. It is all a part of putting what they've learned into practice.
"It kind of offers a visual for how much tobacco or cigarettes are used," Davis said.
The summit's main goal is to educate student's on tobacco addiction, while encouraging them to apply what they've learned into their communities.
"It's really an empowering feeling to meet others, educate them, and then to help them make a difference," Davis said.
"There are many underage people that do these illegal actions, and even though I'm just one person, I still believe that I have an opportunity to make a difference," Hilburn said.
About 200 middle and high school students attended Saturday's summit, and organizers said that's the biggest event they've hosted in East Texas.