Steamboat Springs With the bang of a gavel and the turn of a bucket, Soroco Middle School students kicked butts Wednesday as part of a nationwide initiative to curb youth tobacco use.
A group of eighth-graders staged a mock trial in front of their classmates, teachers and a handful of parents in the school gym auditorium, where the jury found cigarettes guilty of poisoning people's lungs and causing addiction and cancer.
"Today, we will prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Butts is guilty of all charges," lead prosecutor Dakota Wisecup said. "Today, we will put an end to Mr. Butts' reign of death and lies that he has unleashed for many, many years."
Following opening statements from both the defense and the prosecution, a number of witnesses were called to the stand to testify.
"Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help your dog?" court bailiff Johnny DeCosta asked each witness, evoking bursts of laughter from the crowd.
Martin Germain played the part of an American Cancer Society representative, testifying that 156,900 Americans died from lung cancer in 2000.
"Every day, 3,000 kids start smoking," Germain testified. "And more than 1,000 adults die each day from smoking-related illnesses."
"Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which are proven cancer-causing substances or carcinogens," Germain said. "Some of the chemicals include arsenic, acetone, ammonia, formaldehyde and butane."
The prosecution also called mock witnesses pretending to suffer from emphysema and terminal lung cancer. The surgeon general was also called to the stand.
The defense called several mock witnesses, including Philip Morris, Jr., an economy expert and a constitutional expert.
AmeriCorps school-based mentor Lauren Hyer said presenting both sides of the tobacco argument is important.
"We can give (kids) all the information in the world, but they have to make the decision," Hyer said. "Getting the info out to them is more important than saying, 'don't do this.'"
Hyer and fellow AmeriCorps school-based mentor Andy Barsotti organized the mock trial, which all Soroco Middle School eighth-graders helped research.
Barsotti played the role of Mr. Butts, who was part of a rousing conclusion to the trial.
"The charges against Mr. Butts are of poisoning people's lungs and causing addiction and cancer," Judge Kaylee Radebaugh said. "The jury will now deliberate and return with their verdict."
In a deliberation-free verdict, the jury found Mr. Butts guilty of all charges.
"The defendant, Mr. Butts, is hereby sentenced to be extinguished immediately and this court is now adjourned," Radebaugh said.
Bailiff DeCosta dumped a bucket of water on Barsotti to "extinguish" him.
Wednesday was Kick Butts Day, co-founded by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green.
In 2002, thousands of American students participated in more than 1,500 events across the country. Kick Butts Day is supported locally by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps' AmeriCorps school-based mentors and Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.
"Make some wise, informed decisions," Principal Mike Hare told students following the trial.
Though he hasn't identified a tobacco use problem among the school's student body, Hare said youth smoking is a nationwide problem that must continue to be addressed. Soroco Middle School will continue to work on tobacco cessation and attempt to get grant funding to help fight youth tobacco use, he said.
Kick Butts Day events are also planned at Steamboat Springs Middle School and Hayden Middle School.