Smoking ills, up close and personal Students get firsthand look at health risks of cigarettes

March 05, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Tyler James made a pledge at the end of health class yesterday afternoon: "I'm never going to start smoking."

That was exactly what Tyler's teacher was hoping the Harper's Choice Middle School sixth-grader would do at the end of a series of lessons about the dangers of smoking presented by Howard County General Hospital and several volunteers.

"It's disgusting," said Tyler, 12. "I never want to get cancer or have all of those things happen to me."

Two doctors, a health educator and a throat and lung cancer survivor showed about 50 sixth-graders the lasting effects of smoking -- yellowed teeth, lingering odor, heart attacks, emphysema and a variety of cancers.

The lessons were part of what has become a countywide campaign against smoking, from Howard's strict restrictions on smoking in restaurants and bars to the school system's policy of notifying police the third time a student is caught smoking on school grounds.

"I don't want any of these kids to ever have to come and see me," said Dr. Bernard Farrell, a pulmonary specialist at the hospital. "The majority of my patients are smokers, and they come in with terrible diseases. It's all preventable if they had never started smoking."

Farrell showed the students pictures of healthy and cancerous lungs, an X-ray of a lung with a spot of cancer and two preserved specimens of blackened lung.

"Eew! I never want my lungs to look like that," said sixth-grader Chanee Davis-Rice, 11.

Yesterday's Youth and Tobacco Awareness program -- the third of four planned at Harper's Choice for this school year -- is a result of a partnership between the middle school and the hospital to educate students about smoking.

Harper's Choice is the first middle school in the county to have a partnership with the hospital, and yesterday's lessons were far more graphic than the usual anti-smoking instruction.

At all Howard County middle schools, sixth-graders receive instruction -- perhaps not so graphic -- about the hazards of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, in part because middle school is the key time when students make decisions about smoking and drinking.

About one in 20 sixth-graders in the county reported smoking a cigarette in the last 30 days, according to the 1994 Maryland Adolescent Survey. That number quadrupled to one in five students among Howard eighth-graders.

Classroom lectures and textbooks can be effective, said Harper's Choice health teacher Cindy Rowe-Minarcin, "but giving the students a personal experience with smoking can do so much more."

Yesterday, during the last two periods of their school day -- when they normally attend either health or home economics classes -- a quarter of the west Columbia school's sixth-graders got a heavy dose of personal experiences.

Ellicott City anti-smoking activist Peg Browning told how she lost her voice box and one of her lungs because she smoked for more than three decades.

Columbia cardiologist Lawrence Narun showed the students the difference between the hearts of smokers and nonsmokers, and hospital education specialist Marilyn Lauffer illustrated how smoking ravages healthy teeth, gums and lips.

"I bet you couldn't go one day without laughing," Browning told the students, using a microphone to amplify her voice. "I've had 14 years of no laughter, all because I was stupid and I smoked."

In an interview, Browning -- who relies on bottled oxygen to breathe -- said she had one simple reason for talking to the Harper's Choice students: "Because I don't want them to end up like me."

The message seems to have taken hold among the students, who will be expected to follow up yesterday's lessons with some in-class activities over the next couple of days.

"I'm never going to forget what [Browning] told us," said sixth-grader Dina Sztein, 12. "Seeing what can really happen to you if you smoke instead of just reading about it in the book really scares you."

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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