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Woodmeade Elementary School fifth-grader Mollie McConnell pinches her nostrils shut and tries to breathe through a straw. She then gasps for air as a result. The exercise was part of a no-smoking program put on by the Austin High School medical careers class.
Daily photos by John Godbey
Woodmeade Elementary School fifth-grader Mollie McConnell pinches her nostrils shut and tries to breathe through a straw. She then gasps for air as a result. The exercise was part of a no-smoking program put on by the Austin High School medical careers class.

Taking 'Tar Wars' to Woodmeade Elementary
Austin students warn children about dangers of tobacco use

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

"What could you do with $73,000?" Austin High School senior Adonica Stanton asked a Woodmeade Elementary fifth-grade class.

The answers she got ranged from — "I'd buy Huntsville mall," and "I'd buy a mansion" — to a trip to Las Vegas and two Mustang cars.

Stanton's question emphasized the cost of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for the next 50 years at $4 a pack. She is among 17 seniors in Austin teacher Heather Tucker's medical careers class participating in the American Academy of Family Physicians' "Tar Wars." The students are taking this class because they're interested in possible medical careers such as nurse, dental hygienist, physician or physical therapist.

They are teaching Decatur's fifth-grade students the dangers and expense of smoking cigarettes and using tobacco. Several Decatur General Hospital doctors contributed money to support the program.

The teenagers talk to the fifth-graders about the short-term effects of tobacco use like bad breath, smell on clothes, yellow teeth and fingers, and coughing. They also discuss long-term effects like addiction, lung and heart shrinkage, difficulty breathing and skin wrinkling.

For emphasis, the teens told the students to hold their noses, breathe out and then breathe through a straw. They then made the children run in place for one minute.

"Why are y'all breathing so hard?" Alisha Waugh asked. "People who smoke can't do a lot of physical activity."

Stanton led the class in a math activity, getting the students to determine how much a $4 pack of cigarettes would cost them for a week, followed by a month, a year and 50 years.

The teens show the fifth-graders the percentages of people who smoke, proving that not as many people smoke as they might think.

Finally, they divide the class into small groups to analyze the different ways cigarette and tobacco advertising mislead people into thinking that tobacco use is cool, fun and healthy.

Waugh said the AAFP provided materials for the teenagers to use and they practiced their presentations with their classmates asking questions they thought the young students might ask.

"Most of the time, they (practice questions and answers) are right on track with what the children say," Waugh said. "It's fun to listen to the kids' answers."

Woodmeade teacher Susan White said the most effective way to keep the fifth-graders from smoking is using the teenagers as teachers.

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