Hundreds of people crowded the quad area at Moorpark College on Sunday to spread the message to young people and minorities that smoking is bad for your health.
The smoke-free event, dubbed El Gran Apagon, was designed to counteract what health officials say is a deliberate and well-funded effort by tobacco companies to lure young people and nonwhites to their products.
The event introduces "communities of color to the ideas of the Great American Smoke-Out, because they don't have the same information that white, middle-class Americans have," said Nan Waltman, a health educator with the Ventura County Public Health Department.
"They are the ones being targeted by the major tobacco companies," she said.
The promotion, to be staged again next Sunday in the Shopping at The Rose retail center in Oxnard, featured a variety of entertainment and information booths tailored to the smoke-free theme.
Melissa Gruspe of Thousand Oaks, a 23-year-old Moorpark College nursing student handing out pamphlets from behind a booth, said she believes it is no coincidence that some candy marketed for youngsters is packaged to resemble tobacco products.
"It's a steppingstone to the real thing," Gruspe said.
Respiratory therapist Guillermo Dunner of Los Robles Regional Medical Center said he works daily at steering children away from smoking.
"Whoever has worked with emphysema patients and sees them suffer, you kind of feel sorry for them," he said. "Hopefully, we can warn (young people) and tell them how dangerous it is to smoke."
At the corner of the quad, artist M. B. Hanrahan's "Little Truck of Tobacco Horrors" held court.
Greeting visitors inside the wooden mock truck were a six-foot tongue and a stained set of two-foot teeth.
A fat, squat five-foot cigarette with a sliver of a peephole depicts a graveyard scene of headstones cast of bent cigarettes.
"What (young people) respond to is 1, if you've been there yourself, and 2, visuals," the Ventura artist said. "I'd rather let them know they're pawns of a very insidious system."
The Great American Smoke-Out, an effort to get smokers everywhere to put away their cigarettes for one day, is held the third Thursday of each year.