Fewer than 15 percent of adults in the United States smoke. But the pressure among young people to take up the habit remains strong - which is why the CVS Health Foundation has teamed up with a global book publishing company to design an anti-smoking curriculum for students as young as third grade. This month Jim Hummel profiles a school in Pawtucket, where the message is getting through - loudly and clearly.
Click here for more information about Get Smart About Tobacco.
Walters: ``Why would those thing be effective at getting you to pick up cigarettes?’’
If you think you’ve heard everything about the dangers of smoking, just sit in on Jessica Walters’ class for half an hour - and you might be surprised.
Walters, who teachers 6th grade at the Woodlawn Regional Catholic School in Pawtucket, is using a new nationwide program called ``Get Smart About Tobacco’’ - developed by Scholastic, the global publishing company, in partnership with the CVS Health Foundation right here in Rhode Island.
Walters: ``I’ll take anything that gets kids to stay away from cigarettes.’’
Walters, who has taught at Woodlawn the past seven years, said the curriculum - which included an art project - taught her some things she didn’t know before about smoking.
Walters: ``They really latched into the other science behind it: the second-hand and third-hand smoking. Which was new information for me. I had never heard about third-hand smoking. And at first I didn’t quite believe it, but then I did my own research and it’s a problem, it’s that lingering cigarette smoke, the lingering chemicals in the air. in fibers, can cause major problems.’’
Procopio: ``I see safety, and non-smoking and health and nutrition, all of those things that come to me I pass on to the teachers, because they’re all critically important to our children.’’
Veronica Procopio, the principal at Woodlawn, heard about the program in an email from Scholastic, and was intrigued that the CVS Foundation was helping support it, especially since the company made national news two years ago for pulling all tobacco products from its stores.
Hummel: ``So when you heard CVS what did you think?’’
Procopio: ``That this was something that we needed to be involved in locally. I’m an inner-city school, I knew what the non-smoking policy was at CVS and how staunchly they backed the no smoking policy and it seemed to speak to me. And so that’s why I passed it along to the teachers to get involved with the students.’’
This past spring the students learned about everything from the science of smoking to slick advertising campaigns by tobacco companies - and Walters told them about the physical effects of being a smoker.
Walter: ``The majority of them are totally anti-smoking, they are completely against it. Many of them know people who smoke, they don’t like it, especially the kids who are very concerned about their appearance and their image, they really latched into the parts of the program that were: it could affect your skin, it could affect your hair, it could affect the way that you smell, they really hooked into that.’’
And that’s what stood out to Victoria Adegboyeda.
Victoria: ``She talked about how it affects every single body part, the tongue, could make it swollen; your lungs, make them black, it makes your teeth turn yellow, it makes your hair get thinner. You don’t want that.
Hummel: ``That’s attractive.’’
Procopio: ``In speaking with the children I was surprised at how many knew 12-,13- ,14-year-olds that are currently smoking. So it’s important for us to speak to them, people they trust, people they spend their days with - not their parents necessarily - to tell them that this isn’t a good healthy thing. And these kids are not to be admired for doing something that you would think maybe is cool.’’
The students also created individual posters as part of a national contest.
Victoria: ``If you want to be cool, follow one simple rule - don’t smoke. And I put a finger, one simple rule.’’
Garrison: ``It had three hands, cartoony hands, that had chains on them.’’
A.J. Monteiro: ``I drew a girl that was smoking and it had like flames. I put a skull inside the smoke, then on the side I put think before it’s too late.’’
Garrison Robidoux: ``We just learned about this third-hand smoking, when someone smokes it stays on your clothes and it stays on the furniture.’’
Scholastic notified the school last month that one of Miss Walters’ students was a national runner up for this poster - the award carries a $200 VISA card for the student and $50 for his teacher.
Walters: ``He was a little shell-shocked at first, then he was really, really excited that he won. He really enjoys art so it was a nice validation for him.’’
Hummel: ``A lot of things have changed over the years, peer pressure has not, has it?’’
Procopio: ``No it hasn’t.’’
Hummel: ``When they get outside these four walls, that’s when it really hits, isn’t it?’’
Procopio: ``It is and that’s what we try to prepare them for, that’s part of our mission is to prepare them for what we know is outside of these walls and to give them the other side and to speak to dangerous habits and dangerous activities that other children their own age participate in.’’
Walters: ``To hear that the message is getting out to the kids was gratifying, it was enlightening to me because we do see so many people who smoke. The kids have so many people in their lives who smoke, but at the same time they’re against it. So it means that what we’re doing is working.’’
Walters says electronic cigarettes - or e cigarettes - are the latest trend and catching on quickly with youngsters. The Scholastic curriculum hit it head on.
Walters: ``E cigarettes were a major component. There was a reading selection that went with it and e cigarettes figured very heavily in that, which was great because it really emphasized - I think it demystified and deglamorized the electronic cigarettes.’’
Teachers and students also learned that with all of the challenges facing Rhode Island, the state is actually leading the country when it comes to the anti-smoking message to its youth.
Walters: ``We have an 8 percent youth smoking rate, which I don’t remember the national percentage, but it’s significantly better than the national percentage, which is great to see. Again, it validates that what we’re doing in Rhode Island is working to keep kids away from tobacco.’’
In Pawtucket, Jim Hummel, for The Rhode Island Spotlight.