Groups use pop culture to discourage smoking
Whatever Sean Combs may be calling himself these days, Sterlen Barr is sticking to the handle "No Puff Daddy."
The Philadelphia rapper is the frontman for the group Rapping About Prevention, a rap and dance act that discourages people, especially youth, from smoking.
Saturday, RAP brought its act to the Westfield Montgomery mall as part of the Montgomery County Teens Tackle Tobacco event.
Barr started rapping about tobacco prevention 12 years ago after losing his grandmother Joyce Patricia Brown to emphysema and lung cancer, and now takes the show on the road to schools, community groups and tobacco events like Teens Tackle Tobacco.
"It kills dreams," Barr said of tobacco. "You know, people don't see tobacco, because it's legal for adults, they see it as a lesser evil than crack or heroin or cocaine. But tobacco kills more people than crack and heroin and cocaine."
The performance was impressive to George Scaria of Gaithersburg, who walked over from his job at Abercrombie & Fitch to inquire how to get RAP to perform at the Valley Forge Military Academy, which he attends.
"They explained a lot about tobacco and the effects of tobacco and the dangers," Scaria said. "We have a bit tobacco abuse problem [at Valley Forge]. You go around and see dip spit everywhere."
He said he thought maybe RAP could get through to young people better than a health lecture would.
Sophie Jin, the chair of Students Oppose Smoking, a Montgomery County high school organization that co-sponsored the event, said she got involved with the group after a trip to China where she observed smoking being so widespread "you just couldn't have a breath of clean air."
Jin, of Bethesda, said even though there is less smoking here, tobacco use is still the number one preventable cause of death in America.
"I feel like if it's the number one preventable cause there's something we can do about it," she said.
SOS spent the day passing out information about where to find help to those seeking to kick the habit, and soliciting suggestions on what the FDA should regulate about tobacco products in light of legislation recently signed by President Obama giving the agency authority to do so.
County Council President Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, who has been a champion of anti-smoking initiatives in the county, said the use of rap, dancers and young people advocating against smoking is a more-effective way to get the message across.
"Young people are more responsive to what other young people have to say about this," Andrews said.
Maxine Norcross of Bethesda, a member of the group Young Moms Against Tobacco, said it remains important to educate people about the dangers of tobacco because the industry has to solicit new clients all the time.
"The tobacco industry continues to target young people and young women especially and they use increasingly devious tactics to do so," Norcross said, citing a product called Camel #9 that she said makes smoking "look glamorous."
She said the anti-tobacco camp should up the ante as well, and thought the use of the rap program to do it was a good strategy.
"I think innovating programming is important to combating that."
In-your-face demonstrations were also used at the event, where the group Quit While You're Ahead, comprised of former teen smokers, discourage people from lighting up with a food court booth featuring a jar full of a year's worth of tar, a jar of phlegm and a carbon monoxide tester that showed those who tried it how much CO2 was in their body.
Mary Manan of Gaithersburg, a member of the group, said the detector "shocked" several people that tried it and got high readings.
"I think it's like a wake up call for people," Manan said. "A lot of people have taken our brochures, taken our contact information because they want to quit, they just don't know how."