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TATU inks non-smoking image for younger kids

SUQUAMISH — “When you guys are in junior high, there’s gonna be kids who are smoking,” Poulsbo Junior High School student Lindsay Kays explained to a group of very attentive Suquamish Elementary fifth graders. “That’s gross, right?”

“Yeah!” yelled the students.

Kays and the many PJH student advocates for Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) used many methods to deliver the message to their younger student counterparts that smoking or chewing tobacco can lead to severe health problems and even death.

The most important factor is not necessarily the message, however. It was who they were hearing it from.

“Kids have to listen to adults who tell them all the time to ‘not to do this and not to do that,’” said Karla DeVries, PJH health and PE teacher and TATU advisor to the Poulsbo students. “This program makes a greater impact because the younger kids really look up to teenagers.”

The 25 or so PJH advocates, who were trained by the Bremerton Health District, have visited 18 elementary classrooms this year, reaching a total of about 450 kids, giving them statistics and showing examples of the various harms of tobacco use.

TATU was founded in 1996 as part of the “Smoke Free Class” of 2000, a 12-year project sponsored jointly by the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, DeVries commented.

“Every year, it is expanding in Washington State and contributing to the lower smoking rates,” she said.

The statistics of tobacco use are scary no matter how old you are. Seventy-five percent of youth who puff only four cigarettes become addicted and more than half of all smokers began before they were 14 years old were just two of the statistics cited by the teen advocates.

“If they can get you addicted early ... that’s more time for (tobacco companies) to make money,” PJH advocate Jessica Oullet told Suquamish students June 1.

TATU’s approximately 45-minute presentation that day kept the students interested in hearing the new statistics and various examples of just how harmful tobacco can be.

To demonstrate the affects of emphysema, the PJH students had their elementary counterparts run in place 30 seconds singing “Row, row, row your boat,” and then breath through a straw with their noses plugged.

“You now know what it feels like,” said advocate Jessica Gruber.

“You mean they can’t even run?” posed one student.

“They have trouble even walking up the stairs,” Gruber answered to the shock of the students.

The staggering statistics continued: 1,180 people die everyday from some form of tobacco addiction, further keeping the Suquamish students wide-eyed.

The PJH advocates used a giant cigarette filled with leaflets of paper that displayed the various toxins found in cigarettes. The students were dismayed to read that things such as rocket fuel, nail polish remover, tar and lead were found in cigarettes.

PJH student Megan Oost added the point that tobacco companies have already branded each of the kids in the class as their new generation of smokers.

“You’re called the replacement pool,” she said.

The advocates said they wanted to help because they either had a family member who smoked or even a friend whom they worried about because they had begun smoking. In any case, they wanted to have a positive affect on younger children in the district.

“It was an opportunity to influence these kids,” said PJH student Ashley Tobin. “I think one of the best things you can do in life is help kids to not smoke.”

Their message appeared to hit home.

“It’s disgusting,” said Suquamish student Max Gallant of smoking. “I never knew they put all that gross stuff in cigarettes.”

And if they discovered a friend who smoked?

“I’d try and tell them what I had learned today,” said Suquamish student Marc Acob.

The PJH students who participate in the TATU program are: Kays, Ouellet, Tobin, Oost, Gruber, April Powers, Sophie Bonomi, Hannah Pealstrom, Talitha Aban, Hannah McCabe, Chelsea Schultz, Kaitlyn Hammond, Shalee Ellington, Txanton Cleverley, Bree Schnetter, Jessika Schoeler, Amber Johnson, Sharda Ewell, Lindsey Hand, Jeffery Tiongo, Natalie Fritsch, Ellen Tedford, Herc Hubbell and Jilise Piete.

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