New Classes at 12 for Life Help Teens Kick Tobacco

Get Healthy, Live Well has a new way to reach local teens and educate them about the dangers of tobacco. On Nov. 1, Get Healthy, Live Well launched the first Fresh Start class for teens in the 12 for Life cooperative education program at Southwire Company.

Fresh Start, which was designed by the American Cancer Society, will teach teenagers about the benefits of living tobacco-free and help those who use tobacco try to quit. The Fresh Start class will reach approximately 185 students in the 12 for Life program.

The 12 for Life program is for at-risk students from Carroll County School System. Supported by Southwire, the program places students in real jobs at Southwire and allows them to earn wages while working toward their diplomas and getting support and mentoring.

The 12 for Life students will participate in the class once a week for three consecutive weeks. The class, which lasts for about 30 minutes, uses an interactive approach to engage the students, said Shirley Hildebrandt, community benefit coordinator at Tanner Health System.

“We give them a lot of visuals and we try to get them to interact a bit more than adults would,” says Hildebrandt, who is teaching the class for the 12 for Life students. For example, during the first class, Hildebrandt brought in an assortment of chemicals (ammonia, rat poison, lighter fluid and acetone), and asked the students what these things have in common. The answer? All of those chemicals are found in cigarettes.

“About 95 percent of them didn’t know those chemicals were in there,” Hildebrandt said. “They think a cigarette comes from a nice little plant in the prairie that’s rolled up and packaged naturally.”

Instructors also bring in real pig lungs — one healthy and one which has been breathing smoke for 20 years. This vividly illustrates how smoking affects the lungs and fascinates the students.

Money talks when it comes to teens. Hildebrandt put $5 on the table and asked teens to imagine putting $5 a day in a jar instead of spending $5 on a pack of cigarettes. What would they buy with all that money?

Smoking is not the only concern in the classes. Many teens in West Georgia use smokeless tobacco, like chew or snuff, which also threatens their health.

“Dipping and chewing are a big challenge with teens,” Hildebrandt says. “While a cigarette is noticeable and not allowed in most places, kids can walk around with dip in their mouth and even walk into a restaurant and nobody will notice.”

Hildebrandt is trying to educate teens about the very real threat of mouth cancer or dental problems caused by smokeless tobacco.

“They think it’s not as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, but it is definitely affecting their health,” she said. And of course, many teenagers who use tobacco feel invincible with youth on their side.

“Our biggest challenge with every teen is that they find it hard to believe that lung damage or cancer will really happen to them,” Hildrebrandt said. “We tell them that while there might be a few people who escape that, their quality of life will be so much more diminished by continuing to use tobacco.”