High school students take anti-smoking message to elementary schools

Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Students at Franklin Elementary School cringed at a demonstration of a black smoker's lung during a presentation of Central High School for Teens Against Tobacco Use, Monday, April 23, 2007. (Diane L. Wilson)

Fourth-graders find the jar of tobacco tar disgusting.

The Cape Girardeau Central High School students who show off the substance are looking for just that reaction. It's all part of an anti-tobacco presentation to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in the Cape Girardeau school system.

Since March, the teenage girls have visited the local elementary schools and the middle school. On Monday, the group -- Teens Against Tobacco Use -- made presentations to fourth-graders at Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools involving everything from tobacco tar to a pig's lungs.

"It's pretty nasty," Teens Against Tobacco Use member Erin Gerlach said of cigarette smoking.

Gerlach and the other teenagers presented their anti-smoking message through role-playing and exhibits. The high school students passed around a glass jar of tar, the residue that accumulates in a smoker's lungs.

Central High School students for Teens Against Tobacco Use, did some role playing during a anti-smoking presentation at Franklin Elementary School, Monday, April 23, 2007. (Diane L. Wilson)

The presentation got the attention of Franklin School fourth-graders.

"I didn't know it had such an impact on your lungs," said Dymond Gardner, 10.

Luc Helwege, 10, said the message meant more to him because it was delivered by high school students. "They set aside their time to help us," he said after the presentation.

The Central students told the Franklin School students not to believe cigarette ads that sell smoking as a fun activity. Tobacco companies "are not showing you the whole truth," Emma Porter said.

They dumped plastic snakes and rats out of a large tube shaped like a cigarette. The teenagers said that represented the fact that snakes and rats can get into tobacco while it is being stored.

The high school students said smokers are exposing their lungs to such things as ammonia, antifreeze and formaldehyde, which is used in embalming.

Smokers risk getting lung cancer or other deadly diseases, and the habit is also expensive, they told Franklin students. A person who smokes a pack a day will spend $120 a month on cigarettes.

The presentations are part of a larger effort of the Tobacco Prevention Project to warn elementary and middle-school students throughout the region of the dangers of smoking. Terry Baker, Tobacco Prevention Project manager at Saint Francis Medical Center, said the program has enlisted the aid of student groups at several public and private high schools in the region to make presentations in their school districts and communities.

The Central High School students are members of an organization called Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. "We were looking for a good community project," said Porter, the club president.

The presentations kicked off this spring. To date, presentations have been made to about 3,000 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.

Baker said she hopes the project will have reached about 10,000 children by the end of September. The program is part of a two-year anti-smoking effort funded by a $147,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation of Health.


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