More than 3 million middle and high school age students reported using a tobacco product in 2022. That's according to a national youth tobacco survey from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey also found that flavored tobacco and vaping were the most attractive way youth came to smoke.

Tobacco companies targeting kids is nothing new when it comes to building a new customer base. In 1980, the Health Education Council launched a campaign designed to discourage kids from taking up smoking. They used Superman to fight the bad guy named Nick-O-Tine. 

In 2020, the African American Tobacco Control leadership recently teamed up with The Poet Life to create a “You Don't Want that Smoke” campaign.

The Poet Life has targeted the cities of Atlanta, New York and L.A. to work with students to develop their own anti-smoking poetry. GPB host Leah Fleming spoke with founder Christoph Jenkins recently.

Christoph Jenkins: One of our clients, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, we pitched the idea to create a national poetry campaign. And, you know, just leveraging the connections in the poetry community, in the poetry industry, I was able to even employ other poets to facilitate the workshop that will teach the kids about what Big Tobacco is doing as far as targeting the youth with their vaping pens and flavored tobacco to attract them to become long-life customers of tobacco products.

Leah Fleming: So I often see these ads on television, these public service ads, and they show the ugly side of tobacco and smoking. And, you know, these are often very ill people who once smoked. But then I go out and I see a lot of teens that are vaping and smoking cigarettes and I wonder if those ads really work. And I'm not sure that they really touch the hearts of these young people because, of course, young people think they'll live forever and they'll live healthy forever. So I'm wondering how do you think poetry will actually compete with the allure of smoking?

Christoph Jenkins: Poetry really is about the message. It is about telling the story and allowing the person that listens or reads the poetry to internalize the information, right? Through the rhythm, the rhyme, the wordplay. Psychologically, it plays a huge part in how one thinks, right? And so because poetry and music is attractive, it — it allows the teenager to be attracted to the information, not like those graphics that use the ads and that, that you're speaking of because it's like, "Ehh, that's further down the line, right? So I don't even have to think about that." But when it's something that I'm attracted to ... it's like the medicine in the candy, if you will, right? I'm consuming the candy, but I'm also getting the medicine that is the information and the facts about what it's actually doing to your body, like right now.

Christoph Jenkins is founder and CEO of The Poet Life. The showcase of students performing their poetry takes place Saturday, Aug. 5 at the West End Branch library in Atlanta starting at noon.

Tags: Atlanta  Georgia  Smoking  teens  Poetry