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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

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Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network - Safe Streets Healthy Kids 2012

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Tobacco kills you.

Okay, that may not be news to you, but it’s still a major problem threatening youth, teens, and adults.  Even though tobacco use continues to decline, the number of tobacco related deaths tops 443,000 every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  That means tobacco causes one in every five deaths.

Whoa.

At the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network, employees and teen volunteers work to get the anti-tobacco message to young people.  Michael Campbell is the organization's project manager.

“It's a big problem in the African American community.  Part of the problem is the availability of the tobacco products to the youth,” Campbell said.

To combat underage sales -- especially of the non-traditional products seen above -- WAATPN organizes undercover stings on businesses, teaming up with youth volunteers and law enforcement. The network sends minors into gas stations and convenience stores to see if the retailers will break the law, selling tobacco products to kids.  If they do, police follow-up and issue tickets.

High school senior Angellic Ross volunteers her time to stamp out tobacco.

“Tobacco is not okay, it kills a lot of people,” Ross said.  “The message we're trying to get to companies is that they shouldn't be selling tobacco to youth.  If you sell to people under 18 you will get fined.”

Ross not only keeps healthy by avoiding tobacco, but she also benefits from her volunteer work. This fall she will begin her college career at Northwestern University -- on a full scholarship. Ross says volunteerism, as well as her pristine GPA, gave her a big leg-up when applying to college.

WAATPN offers services to current smokers, as well.  And they’re not out to get you.  Campbell says his mission is to reveal the facts and let people decide for themselves.

If you’re struggling with nicotine addiction, call the Wisconsin Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.  You can learn more on the WAATPN Facebook page, as well.

Check out the audio version of this story below.