Rowland High School wants to kick some butts.

Cigarette butts that is.

The local campus is asking students to stop smoking as part of the national "Kick Butts" campaign.

The Rowland Heights school even invited musician Steve Russo to speak to the kids about this growing health issue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that 3,600 teens try smoking every day. More than 1,000 become daily smokers.

The CDC estimates that 20 percent of all high school students in the country are cigarette smokers. Another 6 percent of middle school students also smoke.

Rowland sophomore Daniel Gonzalez said he used to smoke, but quit for his girlfriend, Jessica Vienegas.

The two

Rowland High students, from left, Sharon Cheung, Angela Song and Ryan Lo offer information about smoking. (Photo by Gina Ward, Courtesy of Rowland Unified)
joined hundreds of other students from the assembly featuring Russo, a drummer whose band opened for such musical groups as Fleetwood Mac and Carlos Santana.

The professional drummer said he would help the kids kick smoking, as well as other destructive habits, with three words.

"You just have to remember three words - think and choose wisely," he said. "Besides, you already owe me for getting you out of class."

After dazzling the audience with an impromptu set on his drums, Russo asked the students to think about the dangers of cigarette smoking.

"Smoking affects every major organ in the body ... It's a poison!" Russo said.

The musician's warning is backed up by CDC, which says smoking causes

coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the country.

In fact, the CDC notes that smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease. It also doubles an individual's chances of having a stroke.

On a personal note, Russo said his father began smoking at age 14.

"He decided to quit smoking because of the health issues. But it was too late, he died from lung cancer," Russo said.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the

Junior Jennifer Vasquez won the T-shirt slogan contest with her entry It's Your Life Don t Blow it up in Smoke.
country, and one of the first linked to smoking, according to the CDC.

The government agency said smoking causes 90 percent of the deaths from lung cancer in men and nearly 80 percent in women.

The CDC calculates the risk of dying from lung cancer is 23 times higher in men who smoke and 13 times in women.

The CDC warns that smoking causes many other kinds of cancers. It estimates that cigarette smoking causes 438,000 deaths every year. That's nearly one-fifth of all deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.

Put into context, the CDC said more deaths are caused by tobacco annually than by AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, traffic accidents, murder and suicide combined.

"It doesn't have to be this way. Nicotine is the No. 1 preventable disease in the world," Russo told the students. "But there's a target on your back, the tobacco industry is targeting you."

Russo likens it to the television commercial where the grim reaper turns into a beautiful woman handing out free cigarettes at a sporting event or concert.

"What they don't tell you is that smoking makes you ugly. Your teeth have a suntan and your skin turns yellow. It's even uglier inside your body,"

the musician said.

Still, he said smoking is popular because the nicotine hits the brain in 18 seconds. It's a real rush.

"It's also more addictive than heroin and many other drugs," Russo said.

To help the teens combat smoking, Russo gave them some helpful tips.

"First, you have to learn to like yourself. In high school, I was skinny, with frizzy black hair and a huge nose. I hated my looks, but I thought if I became a good enough drummer I'd find fame, fortune and women," he laughed. The then-17-year-old band member was playing outside gigs with dance bands on nights and weekends. Eventually, he became a studio musician in Hollywood.

Second, Russo suggested the teens choose their friends carefully. After many years with bands, he knows that bad company can corrupt one's character.

"I know you don't think long term when you're in high school, but you have to think of the consequences of your actions in the long run," Russo said as his third tip.

He offered this formula: STP = LTP (short-term pleasure may equal long-term pain.)

"Life is a series of choices. Each choice will have a consequence. That's why I'm asking you to `think' about your choices, then `choose wisely,"' Russo concluded.

The speaker then asked Jennifer Vasquez to come up front. The Rowland junior came up with the slogan for T-shirts given to all the students.

"It's your life. Don't blow it up in smoke!"

richard.irwin@sgvn.com