Greendale — Students from Greendale's high school and middle school gathered together at Scout Lake Park on May 20 to organize into a human billboard on the bridge above Loomis Road.
The signs they held against the bridge's fencing conveyed a cryptic message: "Tobacco companies kill their best customers."
The students were members of the high school's FACT organization and the middle school's Tobacco Fighters, participating in just one of their anti-tobacco awareness events.
FACT, which stands for Fighting Against Corporate Tobacco, is a statewide program that encourages teenagers to hold tobacco industries accountable for their "manipulicious" — manipulative and delicious — methods of disguising tobacco products as "candy-like" for younger consumers.
Tobacco Fighters is a group of young teens who are dedicated a tobacco-free lifestyle. The group's adviser, Cris Reishl, works for the Greendale Health Department.
"Tobacco Fighters is a great corroboration between the school district and the Health Department," Reishl said. "The health department provides training for me on drug issues — including tobacco — and supports my participation in committees within the school district that coordinate prevention programs. The health department also offers some funding of Tobacco Fighters activities and makes available supplies and secretarial assistance."
For many students, the reason to join the anti-tobacco programs was in response to loved ones who do smoke.
"My grandpa was a heavy smoker in his youth, and it caught up with him in his later years," said Dean Busalacchi, a ninth-grader in FACT. "He died from causes to smoking when I was in seventh grade."
Busalacchi was involved with Tobacco Fighters during his middle school career as well.
"I was very close to my grandpa, and it's important to me to help make a positive change," he said.
During the school year, FACT and Tobacco Fighters held a "Kick Butts Day" and hosted a "Tobacco is Wacko" poster contest to spread the word about the dangers of tobacco.
The groups were especially active after CVS Caremark announced that its national supply chain of more than 7,600 pharmacies will stop selling tobacco products by October 1.
FACT and the Tobacco Fighters sent "thank you" letters to the CVS headquarters and met with the local Walgreens pharmacy, 6210 W. Loomis Road, to see if the company was planning on following suit.
Holly Miller, adviser and health teacher at Greendale Middle School, said its FACT student-based group is the largest in the state, with more than 30 members registered through the organization's website, Fightwithfact.com.
"I think it's awesome what these kids are doing," Miller said. "All we want (as educators) is to get the teens passionate about something. The kids feel targeted by the tobacco companies and a lot of them have been affected by family members who smoke.
"This goes beyond the message of 'just don't smoke.' It's about identifying a problem and ways on how to solve it."