Poplar teen fights with FACT
For three years, Tyler Maki has been fighting big tobacco. The Northwestern High School senior doesn't have a large budget or a host of corporate lawyers. What he does have is determination.
"A lot of my family smokes and they're dying from it," said Maki. He decided to join the state's youth-driven Fighting Against Corporate Tobacco group, thinking it might prompt family members to stop smoking.
"And it's actually kind of worked," Maki said. "My grandma she's cut down on smoking a lot. She went from one pack a day to one a day, one cigarette. And my grandpa, he's finally realized that he doesn't have much time left with me so he stopped smoking.
"I feel like I made an impact on my family and other fellow students."
Those who have watched Maki's fight agree.
"His group (FACT) has grown and the message is being heard," said Jody Forsythe, marketing teacher and DECA adviser at the high school. She was so impressed that she recruited the senior to lead the annual DECA anti-tobacco campaign this year.
Maki is also making an impact statewide as a member of the FACT youth board. The Poplar teen is the only member from northern Wisconsin and the first from Northwestern High School.
"I think it brings a new perspective to the group," said Cassandra Grubbe with the American Lung Association. Most of the members come from within a two-hour driving distance of Madison. "This was a good opportunity not only for Tyler, but I think for the state as a whole to get that northern perspective. We're still up here too."
Working with FACT, Maki has shed light on the way teens are targeted with tobacco products. And this summer, he took his battle to the nation. He gave a presentation on FACT's "Manipulicious" campaign at the National Tobacco Smokeless Summit in Montana. The campaign highlights pouches and little cigars that can look, smell or taste like candy and smokeless tobacco packaged in what looks like candy tins.
"It was quite the experience," Maki said, and it was the longest plane ride the teen had ever taken. "We had a lot of people come up to us after the presentation. They were really interested in seeing the smokeless tobacco products we had and how manipulative they are."
In Wisconsin, a loophole allows some tobacco products to be treated differently than cigarettes. For example, little cigars are classified as "other tobacco products" so they are taxed less than a package of cigarettes.
"I've actually seen little cigars for as little as $1.30 for 20 cigars," Grubbe said.
"They sell three packs for $5 in Poplar," Maki said.
These cheaper products also come in flavors like grape, blueberry, cherry and chocolate. Both the flavors and the price make them more attractive to teens, Grubbe said.
"I think there's this perception that since we went smoke-free in 2010 that the tobacco problem is over. It isn't over," she said. Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, killing more than 1,200 Americans every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than eight million Americans live with a smoking-related disease. And each day, more than 2,000 youth and young adults become daily smokers. According to FACT, 18 Wisconsin teens start smoking each day and about 46,500 of the state's high school students are smoking.
There's a reason youth are targeted.
"Ninety-nine percent of all tobacco users started before the age of 26 and 90 before the age of 18," Grubbe said. "So if we can get these youth educated and find them a better avenue to make healthier choices then I think we're going to be much better off in the future."
The Backpack Tobacco Act, currently under consideration by the Wisconsin Legislature, would close the tax loophole so all tobacco products are taxed at the same rate. It would also require all tobacco products to be kept behind the counter.
Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland is one of the bill's sponsors and Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, was added as a co-sponsor this week. The bill was referred to the Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations earlier this month.
Maki plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Platteville after graduation to pursue a degree in agricultural communications. But he said he has learned a lot through FACT.
"It's made me feel more comfortable talking in front of people," he said. "It's helped me open up with a lot of things. Speaking in front of people, I kind of like it now."
Grubbe said he will be missed when he moves on to college.
"Tyler is above and beyond average; he is awesome," she said. The teen is willing to travel, committed and responsible, and answers emails and texts. "He's a really good kid, that's for sure."
The Northwestern High School FACT group began in 2007 and has about 30 members. To learn more, go to www.fightwithfact.com. Schools interested in starting a FACT group of their own can contact Grubbe at 715-919-0806 or email@example.com.
"We really have to have the school's full support in order to make it happen," she said.