As the wellness manager for Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness, I continually look for innovative ways to promote healthy behaviors among young people. Recently, I took on tobacco use. With 90 percent of adults who smoke starting before age 18, how do we stop this habit from forming in the first place?
I went straight to the source. I approached a group of media students at Pleasure Ridge Park High School and worked with their teacher to allow class time for them to develop a campaign to get teens to be tobacco-free.
The students brainstormed ideas around why teens use or choose not to use tobacco. The project components were based on the conclusion that teens are less concerned about long-term health consequences of tobacco use and more concerned with peer impressions, appearance and finances. They developed videos using original music and design to convey their messages.
I knew they would have great ideas and effective ways to communicate their ideas with their peer group. What I didn’t expect is that they would open up and share very personal stories. They told me about family members who continued to use tobacco despite health risks and close calls. Moms, dads and uncles who, despite knowing the risks and being hospitalized for tobacco-related problems, couldn’t break away from the addiction.
This was not just another assignment — this was personal. Here’s what a few had to say:
My mom and dad smoke. My mom smokes cigarettes and my dad smokes small cigars. They are both too stubborn to stop smoking and my mom is on oxygen. She is not incapacitated or anything like that, but she has had COPD for while now. There is no significant thing that has happened (yet) to my mom or dad. My brother used to smoke, but after a visit to the hospital and seeing a picture of his blackening lungs, he stopped cold turkey. My half brother smokes too, I think. My family is riddled with smoking and I will be one of the only people who never smoke anything. I have very fragile lungs too, so even if I wanted to smoke, it would kill me. In short, I hate smoking.
Many people in my family have smoked and many still do. My father, mother, grandmothers and grandfathers. My grandfather smoked when he was younger and he has terrible asthma, causing him to stop. My grandmother did not stop though. She smokes constantly around my grandfather, making his breathing worse. He did not completely stop the use of tobacco, though. He uses dip as a substitute for his old addiction. My mother smoked for years, and before she knew she was pregnant with me she smoked regularly. She smoked for the first three months of my development and doctors predicted I’d come out with plenty of complications with my health. I’m very healthy now, but there was a possibility of a lot of issues. Not only does the smoke affect your health, it affects the environment you live in. Things turn yellow and the smell clings to everything. You can’t leave those houses without smelling like you personally smoked eight packs. My mother stopped smoking because her asthma was getting worse. Her breathing is 10 times better now. When I see the way it has affected everyone, I have no desire to try it.