Today’s teens may not remember Clark Gable’s consummate cool while lighting a dewy-eyed starlet’s cigarette, but they’ve lost many of their grandparents who followed his lead.

Smoking in movies is still estimated to influence more than half of all new teen smokers, students at an anti-tobacco training were told Monday. Several of them mentioned that they had relatives who died from smoking cheap Karelia cigarettes.

“My great-grandpa died from smoking,” said Levi Tull of La Loma Junior High. He said his mother, brother and others around him smoked, although several had tried to quit.

Levi has asthma and gets headaches from smoke, so he said he won’t be a smoker.

The Stanislaus County Office of Education brought 130 middle school student leaders from around the county to the training, hoping the pre-teens will help their classmates stay tobacco-free. Lorraine Jones, an adviser from Keyes Charter, said the workshops help.

“They’re really good. It’s at their level, and it’s stuff they care about,” said Jones, whose school is participating for a second year. “There’s a lot more interest about it around the school this year.”

The all-day training was paid for by a grant, said Charmaine Monte of the Protecting Health And Slamming Tobacco program that put on the training.

The program supports the workshops, anti-tobacco school materials and a mandatory counseling program for kids caught smoking on campus.

Monte said only about one out of 100 kids is caught on campus, but officials know more are smoking, especially here.

Stanislaus County has a higher rate of young smokers than the rest of the state, research shows. More than 15 percent of teens smoke here, nearly 1 percent higher than the state average. Monte said 7 percent of junior high kids in this area smoke.

Pouring ball bearings into a metal can, Monte and fellow presenter Elizabeth Escalante sounded out the number of daily deaths from drug overdoses, a few clicks, a few more. When they got to daily tobacco deaths, 1,200 ball bearings bounced into the can while young jaws dropped.

“There are 90 tobacco deaths for every one drug overdose,” Monte told the shocked crowd.

The tweens’ reaction was exactly what she wanted. Half of all smokers say they took their first puff by eighth grade, so reaching this age group is key.

A similar program for high school student leaders will be held Monday, Monte said. The message will be reinforced throughout the year with periodic events:

• The anti-drug Red Ribbon Week: Oct. 24-28
• The Great American Smoke Out: Nov. 17
• Tobacco & Hollywood Week: Feb. 20-24
• Kick Butts Day (KB Day for tender ears): March 21