From Misinformed to Motivated. Teens Responses to Tobacco Truths.

By Tessa Willie, Director of Prevention Services

Teachers skillfully recognize when students need further education on a topic. This past year, a local teacher noticed that her students were misinformed on tobacco use dangers. So, I was asked to bring the tobacco truth to her high school class.

Battling a Teenage “Know-It-All”?

Before class began, students entering the room noticed my set of pig lungs: one fresh and pink, the other shrunken and black. These compare a healthy lung’s appearance to a smoker’s lung. I heard students commenting on the lungs to one another. Then one was quite vocal, “I don’t want to listen to another presentation. I’ve heard it all before.” But, I began anyway.

I shared tobacco facts through my pig lungs; Mr. Gross Mouth, which shows effects of chewing tobacco, such as swollen red gums, gingivitis, and mouth cancers; and the tar jar, a container of the thick, sticky substance that enters the body when someone smokes or breathes in secondhand smoke.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

After the presentation, the “heard it all before” youth came to the teacher and me. He said, “Wow, I had no idea what tobacco could do to me.” He could not believe products so harmful are legal to use. Then he took a can of chewing tobacco from his backpack. “I don’t need this anymore,” he said, handed it to his teacher, and walked out of the classroom.

This is not always the reaction I get. Normally, students respond by joining a youth group. Through these groups, youth influence peers and invest in younger students and their communities. Groups visit younger classrooms to encourage them to be substance-free. They also advocate to local government for tobacco-free parks, visit the Capitol to speak with legislators, and promote substance-free celebrations, such as grad parties. Students claim the group helps them with leadership, team building, and communication skills and equips them to do their part to make substance-free lifestyles a standard in their community’s future.   

Onward with Gusto

I believe, and am reassured every time I present in a school, that youth can lead us into a healthy, safer future. We just need to empower them with knowledge to take action. It all starts with one stubborn student, learning the facts, and turning in his chew.  

Everyone can help prevent substance use and abuse in their family, social network, and community. 

  • Youth – Find a youth group at your school. If there isn’t a current youth group, contact Tessa. 
  • Adults – Are you a parent, grandparent or concerned community member?

Find out about our Prevention Team strategies, community coalition engagement, and Helping Services’ stance on local drugs. Contact me at 563-387-1720 or twillie@helpingservices.org with any questions.

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