Visit teaches Banks

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 19, 2001

students to breathe easier


Staff Writer

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Jan. 18, 2001 10 PM

BANKS ­ Students at Banks School were given the weapon of knowledge to fight the Tar Wars.

Dr. Kurtis Eaton, a family practitioner in Troy, spoke to fourth and fifth grade students about the dangers of using tobacco.

It was when Eaton was in medical school at the University of South Alabama in Mobile that he was first introduced to the Tar Wars program sponsored by the American Association of Family Practitioners. Once he started his own practice, he chose to continue the program’s efforts by talking to school children in Pike County.

Eaton started his discussion by showing the Banks fourth graders statistics.

Looking at that slide, the students discovered that 76.4 percent of adults, 62 percent of high school freshman and children 12 and under are tobacco free.

"Almost everybody your age doesn’t use tobacco," Eaton told the group gathered in the school library.

"It’s easy to get fooled," he said of advertising and peer pressure that sends the message "everybody’s doing it."

To give them an idea of why they should never start smoking or using smokeless tobacco, Eaton discussed the short- and long-term effects of using tobacco.

The children were quick to raise their hands and give long-term effects, such as heart disease and cancer.

But, they weren’t so sure when asked about the short-term effects.

They giggled when Eaton talked about what he calls "zoo breath," caused by tobacco usage. It wasn’t so funny, though, when he talked about the yellow teeth and fingers, headaches, coughing, difficulty breathing, red and watery eyes, "smelly" clothes and burns in clothing and furniture.

To illustrate the breathing problems associated with smoking, Eaton’s nurse gave each student a straw. They were told to breath through the straw; breath through the straw while holding their noses; breath through the straw while holding their noses and jogging in place.

As the exhausted students began to catch their breath after the exercise, Eaton told them to remember how that exercise felt when someone offers them a cigarette.

"I see people, every day, who have been smoking for a long time," Eaton said. "They have to work to take every breath for the rest of their lives."

Also, the students were amazed when Eaton started calculating the costs involved in the bad habit.

Using $3 as the approximate cost of a package of cigarettes, Eaton multiplied that by 30 days to tell the students the habit of smoking costs about $90 per month.

"But, people who smoke don’t smoke for a month and then stop," Eaton said, multiplying three by 365 to come up with 1,095 ­ the number of dollars the cigarette habit costs in a year.

"That’s a lot," one student shouted.

To add to the amazement, Eaton reminded them that most smokers don’t smoke only one pack a day.

"Think about the money you waste on tobacco," Eaton said.

That money, the children figured, could be better spent on things like bicycles, Go-Carts, stereos and scooters.

"Why would someone use tobacco for the first time?" Eaton asked the students.

Their response was "to be cool," be like their parents, curiosity, the idea it might be "fun" to light up a cigarette and to relax.

"If you want to be like everybody else, you won’t do it," Eaton said, reminding the students of the statistics that almost 100 percent of young people have never used tobacco.

"What is it that’s cool about using tobacco? Is it the zoo breath, the yellow teeth?" Eaton asked. "I think it’s very uncool to use tobacco."

The doctor then talked about the highly addictive drug nicotine, which is the main ingredient of cigarettes.

Studies, he said, show nicotine is more addictive than cocaine.

But, that is not all nicotine is. It is also a drug that affects the heart rate and breathing.

"Nicotine is a stimulant," Eaton said. "It speeds up your heart rate and breathing."

In other words, smoking does not help a person relax. That need to have a cigarette is because of the addiction to nicotine.

After discussing the effects of tobacco use, Eaton talked about advertising methods to draw, young people to tobacco products.

For example, Eaton said there are 299 times during the movie "101 Dalmations" that tobacco is used.

The children’s knowledge of tobacco products was evident by the quick recognition one child had when he saw a magazine advertising Copenhagen. That ad and other, Eaton pointed out, have models with perfect white teeth and having fun.

"They’re trying to trick you," Eaton told them of the advertisers. "They don’t want to tell you the truth.

"The only place you’re going to see the truth is in those little white boxes," he said, referring to the Surgeon General warning all tobacco products are required to have.

In an effort to encourage children not to start using tobacco, Eaton said there will be a poster contest. Posters should focus on the benefits of not smoking, rather than the negative effects of smoking.

Each class will have a winner who will receive a gift card to Wal-Mart; school winners will get a "larger" gift card, Eaton said. The Pike County poster contest winner will win a Super Nintendo and advance to the state level. And, if the state winner is lucky enough to win the national competition, he or she will receive a free trip to Disney World for the family.