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Teens lobby Asheville to ban tobacco sponsorship from Bele Chere



1/10/2012 - Teens lobby Asheville to ban tobacco sponsorship from Bele Chere
by Casey Blake - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- A group of local teens wants the city to put its Bele Chere-designated money where its tobacco-free mouth is this summer for the region's biggest festival.

Two Asheville High students representing several area Teens Against Tobacco Use chapters addressed the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department board Monday, lobbying the group to eliminate any tobacco company sponsorships from this year's Bele Chere festival.

"Continuing to accept tobacco sponsorships at Bele Chere is not standing by the healthy living that Asheville is known for," said Nyrobi Tyson, a junior at Asheville High. "Asheville is sending a message to all the youth who attend Bele Chere that smoking is OK, acceptable and commonplace."

Bele Chere has been host to a booth promoting Camel tobacco products since 2009, brought to the festival by mobile marketing group BFG Communications. The agency is responsible for a year-to-year sponsorship which is worth about $15,000 a year.

But Asheville Parks director Roderick Simmons said BFG Communications represents a number of big brand companies and chooses which brands to promote through booths and tents at Bele Chere. Other BFG clients include Coke, Pepperidge Farms, Miller and Quiznos Subs.

"It's great to see how engaged these kids are," Simmons said.

"At this point, we have to look at how significantly it would hurt revenues for the festival to tell BFG, 'What if we don't allow a Camel presence here?'" he said. "This just isn't a conversation we've had with our sponsors, so we'll have to look into it and see what happens."

The board passed a motion Monday to revisit the issue and take action during its February meeting, and City Council liason Cecil Bothwell committed to bringing the issue before council.

"The city has every reason to impose criteria on who gets to be a presence at Bele Chere," Bothwell said. "If it comes down to BFG paying us $14,000 and we have to have one less folk singer, I think that's something we can work with."

Bothwell also pointed out that City Council voted to ban smoking from city parks several years ago, and areas designated as Bele Chere zones legally "become a city park" during the festival.

The teens who spoke Monday work in conjunction with local nonprofit Youth Empowered Solutions, which helps youth groups advocate for various causes like tobacco prevention.

Tyson has joined forces with teens from city and county schools, including Tyshaun Johnson, Savannah Henderson and Tyler Long, who have all worked on a campaign lobbying everyone from their high school peers to the Buncombe County Department of Health to support the tobacco-free Bele Chere initiative.

"My Aunt Burt had been smoking since she was a teenager and has now died of lung cancer," Asheville High senior Jaylen Craig said.

"A huge amount of teens and children attend Bele Chere and, just like my aunt, may even start at that age," she said.

"So, I'm strongly against having this tent at Bele Chere, where it's supposed to be a clean and friendly environment for kids to explore."


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