With an Academy Awards-like setting, students at Berea College and Madison Southern High School on Thursday unveiled a “True Life: This Could Be You” tobacco awareness campaign.

The project was initiated by the Madison Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club after its members realized the school’s administration and student body face teen smoking issues every day.

Looking for a solution, the club enlisted the help of the Madison County Health Department and Billy Wooten, assistant professor of communications at Berea College, who teaches a public relations communications course.

Together, they proposed a tobacco awareness campaign to the Kentucky Department of Health, which provided a grant for the campaign’s development.

“They have done what takes a typical public relations firm at least three or four months to do,” said Wooten, whose class helped with the print material. “They have developed an entire media campaign together. We’ve produced at least 10 commercials, radio announcements, two brochures, seven poster designs, three bulletin boards and a wonderful mural.”

The public relations class created two brochures focusing about the effects of smoking and one about the health benefits of quitting.

Posters depicting images of the effects of smoking and statistics about tobacco use will be hung in the bathrooms in the school and bulletins boards will be displayed throughout the school.

A cigarette-pack shaped “Time’s Up” mural, depicting a clock with photos showing the effects of tobacco use and created by the students, also will be placed in the school’s cafeteria.

“All of these elements combined will give the students a constant reminder of the dangers that they are not only putting themselves in, but also the dangers of secondhand smoke,” said Akilah Hughes, a Berea College student.

Along with Wooten’s Communication 109 students, who are learning the theoretical concepts of public relations while operating their own non-profit, PR firm called Students Organizing Community Relations, another Berea College professor lent a helping hand for the project.

Rodney Clark instructed other students enrolled in a filmmaking course about the art of creating public service announcements for radio and TV for the campaign.

Armed with ideas from the SADD club members, the Berea College students created several commercials, public service announcements and radio spots for the “True Life” project.

“It was a very rewarding experience to work with the (high school) students and to also learn more about the filmmaking and editing process,” said Victor Henry, a Berea College student in the filmmaking class.

From a stylish, black-and-white film noir parody to a slapstick scene involving a hall monitor, the 30- to 60-second clips were shown to audience members during the unveiling in Madison Southern’s auditorium.

The best commercials and radio spots will be chosen to air on a local cable and radio stations.

“Some of them are serious. Some of them are funny,” said Robyn Moreland, SADD club sponsor and youth service center director at Madison Southern. “But I think all of them have a great message to them. A lot of what was seen was the ideas of the SADD club members. The Berea College students took those ideas and made them into reality.”

“All of this stuff is going to all over (Southern’s) campus come next week,” she said. “So, hopefully we’re getting the message out to our student body that tobacco is not something we want here.”

Jim Rousey, public health director for the Madison County Health Department, served as guest speaker for the unveiling.

“When I was in high school, we had nothing like this,” he said. “We had the picture of the Marlboro cowboy that all us guys kind of wanted to emulate. The really tough guys, anytime anyone said anything about the hazards of smoking, would say something stupid like, ‘It takes a real man to face cancer.’ That was 40 years ago. If we would had things available then that I have seen (during the unveiling), I feel certain that many of my friends and I would not have started smoking. Fortunately, I saw the light and quit.”

He applauded the students for all of their hard work and effort to create the campaign.

“These ideas will have a profound impact,” Rousey said. “I can’t tell you how many people they will influence. Let’s say they influence only one person. Well, then you guys have done a terrific job because that’s one person who will not have to face all of the manifestations that come from smoking. But I think you will influence many, many more kids who will think twice about smoking.”

Bryan Marshall can be reached at bmarshall@richmondregister.com or 624-6691.

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