"[The advertising company] asked us about the apparel and other things we wanted to see in the commercials," West New York teenager Jackie Rodriguez, a member of the West New York chapter of a student anti-smoking group called REBEL, said last week. "We thought it would be better [than using actors] if actual REBEL members were in the commercials."
Now you can see slides of the West New York REBEL kids showing at local movie theatres such as the Sony Loews theatres in Secaucus, Newport Mall Cinema in Jersey City, the Mayfair in West New York and some other local theaters.
And the kids are working to get peers in neighboring communities like Union City to join them.
REBEL (Reaching Everybody by Exposing Lies) is a statewide youth initiative against tobacco companies.
The movement, which began with a "Kick-Ash" weekend in November sponsored by the state's Department of Health and Senior Services, carries the message that teens no longer want to be targeted by tobacco companies in their advertisements.
On Feb. 16, the teens from all REBEL chapters in the state launched their advertising campaign at the Liberty Science Center.
REBEL is sponsored locally by each county's chapter of Communities Against Tobacco, an adult group that helps organize the teen REBEL groups through local schools. "We take the program to the schools," said REBEL's Hudson County youth coordinator, Elizabeth Morales, who works with the Hudson County chapter of Communities Against Tobacco.
The program works with seventh and eighth grade students with the hope that the eighth grade members will take REBEL into the high schools with them.
When West New York's REBEL group first assembled last November, there were only five members, all eighth grade students from Public School No. 4. But by this summer, the group had grown to close to 90 members.
"We didn't think that too many people would be interested," said Rodriguez. "But everyone knows our message. They know who we are now."
Now that the original five members are moving on to high school, the girls are looking for more members to join them in high school and to keep recruiting at the middle school level.
Thus, the group just had a recruitment party last week at the West New York swimming pool on 60th Street below Boulevard East. The pizza and pool party attracted more than 50 new members to the West New York group.
"To get so many people just to listen is so cool," said Elizabeth Velasquez. "It easy to talk about [the effects of smoking], but now people are finally taking the time to listen."
With more than 35 applications filled out by Union City teenagers at the pool party, REBEL may be expanding into Union City as well.
Hudson County also has REBEL chapters in North Bergen, Kearny, Harrison and Bayonne.
"This event was supposed to be just for the West New York group," said REBEL'S Hudson County Youth Coordinator Elizabeth Morales who works with the Hudson County chapter of Communities Against Tobacco.
Marvin Nino, a sophomore peer mediator at Union Hill High School in Union City, was one of the Union City teens who were interested in the REBEL group.
"By joining this group, I might be able to encourage other teenagers," said Nino, a sophomore who said that he thinks that peer pressure on teens to smoke or do drugs is one of the biggest problems that teens face.
To find out more information or to join, call Elizabeth Velasquez at 653-7166.