Tobacco Free Academy
c/o Ashland Boyd County Health Department, P.O. Box 4069, 2924 Holt St., Ashland, KY 41105, (606) 329-9444
How do you capture and hold the attention of a bunch of 9- and 10-year-olds? For starters, you might try a jar of tar.
The jar, which holds a black sludge representing the total amount of tar a smoker takes into his or her lungs in a year, is just one of many props used in the course of the Tobacco Free Academy. During this two-hour program for 4th through 6th graders, kids move through a series of interactive stations that show them the harmful effects of smoking. They examine X-rays of damaged lungs, see and smell some of the gases and chemicals found in cigarettes, try inflating healthy and impaired lungs to feel the difference for themselves, and see graphicand effectivephotos of what smoking does to the teeth and tongue. They learn about peer pressure and the techniques advertisers use to make smoking look cool, and they get advice on how to resist such pitches. The education can even continue after the kids go home: Many write letters aimed at persuading family members to quit smoking.
The academy was created by the Ashland Boyd County Health Department with seed money from the American Lung Association of Kentucky. Because surveys have shown that up to 50% of 4th and 5th graders have already experimented with some form of tobacco, all of the displays and educational materials were designed to appeal to that age group. Academy graduates get T-shirts that say Proud To Be Smoke Free, and many area kids are now sporting caps with an even more succinct message: Butt Out.
After several years of welcoming around 1,200 children a year to its interactive exhibits, the academy seems to be successful from both the educational and health standpoints. Students are tested on their knowledge of smoking and its effects before and after attending the academy, and the post-tests show marked improvement. Behavioral surveys in the Boyd County area are also showing a decline in the number of young people smoking. While its impossible to quantify exactly what part the Tobacco Free Academy has played in that statistic, its staff and volunteers find the trend very encouraging.