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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Northridge

Cigarettes the Defendant in Trial of Smoking

April 16, 1999|ART MARROQUIN

In the case of "Mr. Butts" vs. Dearborn Elementary School, a cigarette's hope of being found harmless were quickly extinguished Thursday.

The courtroom drama brought to life by Nancy Knox's special education class was one among the 1,200 ways schools across the country recognized the "Kick Butts" anti-tobacco campaign this week. The national event, sponsored by the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids, is aimed at teaching children about the dangers of smoking.

"I think convincing children not to smoke is a priority," Knox said. "I want them to respect their bodies and to respect themselves."

Knox converted her classroom into a courtroom Thursday as students tried to determine whether "Mr. Butts," a cigarette played by Danny Canelos, was responsible for causing cancer and heart and lung disease. Each of Knox's eight students had a part in the play, while three classrooms of children watched and acted as the jury that found Mr. Butts guilty.

Although the play smacked of something from "Judge Judy" or "People's Court," it delivered a serious message that warned about the dangers of smoking.

"I liked playing Mr. Butts a lot, even though I was the bad guy," Danny said. "They took me to jail in the end because I made a lot of people sick."

The play served as a sort of speech therapy for the children, who have language development problems, Knox said. The experience improved their reading skills, expanded their vocabulary and made some feel more confident about public speaking, she said.

"I learned about speaking louder, how to act and how to talk to a lot of people," said Randall Van Every, 9. "I really liked that."

Smoking among children is near a 19-year high with the sharpest increase between 1988 and 1996, according to a study released this week by the University of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"We need kids to take an active role in fighting against the tobacco industry's effort to get them to smoke," said Matthew Myers, a spokesman for the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids. "We believe kids can be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

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