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Tobacco Free Day at capitol attracts record-breaking crowd

Morgan Thomas, Valley High School
Some of the sadder, more unsettling displays at Tobacco Free Day at the West Virginia State Capitol focused on the harmful effects smoking has on babies. The annual event is put on by Raze to educate about the dangers of smoking.
Morgan Thomas, Valley High School Emily Estep, Savannah Cassidy and Holly Dunlap of Valley High School were among the more than 800 people who attended Tobacco Free Day at the West Virginia State Capitol. The crowd set an attendance record for the event, which took place in late February.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tobacco Free Day at the West Virginia State Capitol was Feb. 24. Raze groups from around the state went to the capitol to set up displays and make people aware of the harmful effects of tobacco.

The event was originally run by the West Virginia Youth Tobacco Prevention Campaign, a youth movement started by a lady named Cinny Kittle. It was part of a weekend conference for teenagers that ended at the capitol with a rally.

After Kittle's movement ended, Raze took over the event, sponsored by the Coalition for Tobacco Free West Virginia. It's been 17 years and counting.

The coalition organizes the day, and its Youth Empowerment Team works with the Raze groups. This year, the event gathered more than 800 people (39 crews, along with 50 advisors and chaperones), which broke the record for attendance. Raze's goal with the rally is to raise the cigarette tax so people hopefully will begin to reduce or stop smoking.

When the students arrived at the Capitol, they signed in, then headed upstairs. All around the capitol, Raze groups, as well as some other organizations, had tables set up where they had pamphlets and other information available. Some tables had commotions, which are what Raze calls its anti-tobacco displays and demonstrations.

Courtney Dayhaw, Emily Estep and Jacob Sargent attended Tobacco Free Day from Valley High School. They all went for one reason: to learn more about tobacco use and its harmful effects.

All three are Raze members at Valley. Dayhaw joined Raze because she had friends in the club. Estep and Sargent joined because they wanted to be able to tell people who do drugs to stop and also be able to tell them all of the bad effects tobacco has on their bodies.

Sargent is the only one of the three who does commotions on a regular basis. He was one of the main people responsible for Valley's table at the capitol.

For more than five hours, teenagers looked around at the tables set up. Some were very informative, and others were disturbing and unsettling.

"The tables that talked about what it does to the babies were so sad -- that somebody would do that to their unborn child," Estep said. Overall, Tobacco Free Day was a success and informative to students, whether they were new to the anti-smoking movement or veterans. Everyone there wished for the same thing: to tear down the lies of tobacco and inform people of all the harmful effects it has on one's body.


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