College freshman leads tobacco fight

CLINTON, Miss. (BP) -- Growing up in a state with high smoking rates and seeing his grandfather battle cancer for years, Bryce Moore felt compelled to take action.

An 18-year-old Mississippi College freshman, Moore became actively involved in fighting tobacco use among young people.

Starting as a 9th grader at Gulfport High School, his hard work in the cause caught the attention of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. In May, Moore was recognized as National Youth Advocate of the Year at the organization's 20th annual awards gala in Washington, D.C. He works with the Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalition of Harrison County and assisted communities statewide passing smoke-free air policies.

Getting $5,000 and a $500 stipend to launch a community project were among the benefits with the national award. In addition, Moore will travel during the upcoming year to take his anti-tobacco message to America's youth.

His grandfather's poor health "concerned me at an early age," Moore said during a break at Mississippi College's summer orientation in late July. "My granddad's smoking much of his life posed dangers. I hid his cigarettes. I threw away his cigarette lighter."

Time spent with his 77-year-old Mississippi grandfather, David Moore Sr., inspired the Gulfport teen. Born in 1939, his grandfather grew up when smoking wasn't considered harmful. He finally quit the habit after recently being hospitalized. He's been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

His grandfather's experience taught Moore valuable lessons to share with teens on the Gulf Coast and other communities.

A communication major at the Mississippi Baptist-affiliated university, Moore refuses to lecture kids packing cigarettes. "I try to build bonds with them and show them I care," he said. "I don't want them to continue smoking." He sees some progress in the Magnolia State, but calls it "slow."

Bryce's mother, Angela Moore, an English teacher at Harrison Central High School, agrees. "At school, I see lots of teens smoking as 9th and 10th graders," she said.

Facts about tobacco use

Tobacco remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States and worldwide, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids website. Tobacco killed 100 million people in the 20th century. And if current trends continue, tobacco will kill one billion people worldwide in the 21st century.

Tobacco use kills more than 480,000 people each year in the U.S. and an estimated 6 million people annually across the globe.

That's far too many deaths, Bryce Moore said. The message about the harmful effects of tobacco use was highlighted at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids meetings in May. It will be a topic again as Moore returns to the group's Washington headquarters in December.

Enrolling at Mississippi College brings him to a smoke-free campus in Clinton. That's one thing he noticed right away at the school. "Smoke free signs are fantastic," Moore said.

It's a message he will preach to anyone willing to listen. Mississippi College's admissions counselor Michelle Borho of Gulfport is happy to see Bryce become a Choctaw. "He is very motivated and hard-working. He really brings a lot to student life."

Before coming to campus, Moore joined 14 other high school students serving on the Generation FREE Youth Advisory Board administered by The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi.

Sandra Shelson, executive director of the partnership, applauds Moore's accomplishments in tobacco education and awareness. "He has educated thousands of Mississippi youths on the dangers of tobacco use, secondhand smoke and emerging nicotine products."

With three million people, Mississippi needs plenty of help to stamp out smoking, Moore said. "It's a long struggle," he said. "We are not winning the war in Mississippi."

In Mississippi, tobacco claims 5,400 lives each year and costs $1.2 billion in health care bills. About 12.2 percent of Mississippi's high school students smoke, says The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi.

Still, there are positive signs as well. Today, there are more than 120 smoke-free communities across Mississippi.

The Southern Baptist Convention has passed numerous resolutions related to tobacco. In 2005, messengers to the SBC passed a resolution on committing to become "more involved in our communities and states to prevent and reduce smoking and other tobacco use, especially among teens."

For more information about Generation FREE go to www.generationFREE.com.

Hannah Wallace is public relations assistant for Mississippi College.
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