Ninety percent of smokers start by age 18. With teenagers being particularly susceptible to forming this habit, educators can play a critical role in helping to inform students about the dangers of tobacco use.
On March 20, during the 18th Annual Kick Butts Day (KBD), educators will join students and health advocates across America in highlighting the dangers of tobacco use and aggressive marketing practices by the tobacco industry. More than 1,000 events across the nation are planned for KBD, organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and United Health Foundation. Educators who want to organize KBD events can find an interactive activity guide at www.kickbuttsday.org.
“We want educators to serve as a resource, as well as to encourage young people to take the initiative and be leaders,” says Ritney Castine, associate director for youth advocacy with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “When an adult says that tobacco can cause cancer and lead to premature death, it’s ultimately not as effective as when a child’s peers present these messages in an age-appropriate way.”
Some of the events and information listed at the organization’s Web site include information about staging a health fair or rally, how to help students educate each other about tobacco use and the tobacco industry, and lessons about the hundreds of toxic and cancer-causing chemicals contained in cigarettes and secondhand smoke. Some schools will invite students to take a pledge to be tobacco-free and to create a “memorial wall” where they will honor loved ones who have died due to tobacco-related causes.
With the success of last year’s KBD, the student council at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky decided to expand the one-day anti-tobacco program into a weeklong health-centered initiative (March 18-22). During “Wellness Week,” each day will offer a different theme.
“With rising obesity rates, bullying, and mental stress we want to provide awareness opportunities to combat these issues,” says Elizabeth Ewing, a teacher who works with the student council and is a member of the Fayette County Education Association. “Students will set up tables in the lunchroom and in the entry ways to talk to other students before and after school about that day’s theme.”
Monday’s theme is “Save a Life.” Students will distribute life savers with health facts attached to them to encourage students to take control of their health. On Tuesday, students will hang posters outlining the effects of long term drug and alcohol use.
In addition to activities like the Wheel of Potential Diseases (a carnival-like wheel that spins and lands on the name of a tobacco-causing disease), Wednesday’s KBD will include information on what it costs to purchase cigarettes.
“There will be a list of things you could buy with your money instead of cigarettes,” says Ewing.
On Thursday, students will hand out water bottles to members of athletic teams and discuss the importance of drinking water instead of soda. Fitness Friday will promote exercise and include students approaching teachers to consider including one minute of fitness.
In addition to informing students about the dangers of tobacco, organizers say KBD is an opportunity to educate elected officials about the actions they can take to protect kids from tobacco, such as increasing tobacco taxes, enacting smoke-free air laws, and funding tobacco prevention programs.
“Tobacco companies still spend $8.5 billion a year to market their deadly and addictive products, and much of it is targeted at kids,” says Castine. “They constantly introduce new products that appeal to kids, such as cheap, sweet, colorfully-packaged small cigars that look just like cigarettes. These come in fruit and candy flavors, and many are the same price as candy in your local convenience store.”
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing more than 400,000 people and costing $96 billion in health care bills each year. Approximately 18 percent of high school students (3.4 million young adults) smoke, including 16 percent of females and almost 20 percent of males. Kentucky (24 percent), South Dakota and Alabama (both at 23 percent) have the highest rates of students who smoke. While most states fall between 16 and 18 percent, Utah has the lowest rate at 6 percent.
Castine says parents can help by not smoking, not smoking in front of children, and by talking to their children about tobacco use.
“Parents should also encourage their kids to hold a Kick Butts Day event in their community,” he says. “It’s a great way for their kids to have a positive impact on their peers.”
Additional information about tobacco, including state-by-state statistics, can be found at www.tobaccofreekids.org.
Secondhand smoke, one of the common environmental triggers of asthma, can not only trigger an asthma attack but it can increase the severity of an attack. And asthma is one of the leading causes of absenteeism due to a chronic illness. To learn more about asthma and asthma triggers visit the NEA Health Information Network or take their online course on asthma in the school environment.