In the 1940s cigarettes were a big thing. There were advertisements in magazines, newspapers and billboards telling the public how cool it was to smoke, how good it was, and promoting them as a way to help with weight loss.
Fast forward to the ‘80s and ‘90s, when advertisements displayed groups of young people having fun while smoking and gave the message it’s fun to smoke. The cool characters in movies and TV shows wore leather jackets and black sunglasses with a cigarette in his mouth, or were portrayed as the group of popular girls in the bathroom having a puff before class.
In the advertising world, things have changed since then. There are now advertisements on the dangers of smoking, and labels on tobacco products warn the consumer. The evolution in tobacco advertising is changing and middle-school aged children are being exposed early on the dangers of smoking.
In Mohave County, 28 percent of students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades have smoked at least one cigarette, compared to the statewide average of 23 percent. Mohave County has one of the highest smoking rates in adults and teenagers.
The Mohave County Department of Public Health is part of a pilot program from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Banner M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert that teaches students about different tobacco products, the dangers of smoking and offers tips on how to avoid temptation and how to stop smoking.
Students are learning about this information through a free online program called, “A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience,” or ASPIRE. The program resembles a video game where students can create their own avatars and go through the eight different levels.
Vanessa Eugenio, a community health educator for the Mohave County Department of Public Health, has been the coordinator bringing the program into the schools around the county.
“(Students) love it,” she said. “Their big thing is not having to just read and learn it from a book.”
So far schools in Bullhead City have participated in the program since March. About 660 students were reached and 302 students finished the program. Schools in Kingman and Lake Havasu City are the next group of students the coordinators of the program would like to reach.
Students are able to connect with the program on a more personal level, not only because it resembles a modern-day video game, but because during the program real people share their stories.
“They get a real life feel and where they can relate to someone,” Eugenio said.
After going through the program, students are encouraged to reach out to family members to try to get them to stop smoking.
Kicking tobacco’s butt
Although teen smoking rates are high in Mohave County, there are some students who are putting a stop to the generation trend.
Student groups such as Kick Butt, which is part of the Kingman Youth Coalition Beating Up Teen Tobacco, have put their efforts toward stopping the generational trend by getting their peers to sign pledges to be tobacco free, informing them about the ingredients that are in cigarettes, and picking up cigarette butts in the parks.
The group of students will be picking up cigarette butts at 10 a.m. today in Centennial Park.
ASPIRE uses interactive activities, testimonies from peers and medical experts, short- and long-term health consequences of tobacco and nicotine use. Students learn about new and emerging products such as electronic cigarettes, synthetic marijuana, hookahs, second- and third-hand smoking.
The online program can fit into health, science, math, social studies and technology application school curriculums. The English and Spanish program takes three hours to complete and coordinators are providing the headphones. All schools have to do is provide computers. At the end of the program, students are awarded a certificate of completion.
Educators who are interested in having their students participate in the program can contact Susan Williams at 928-753-0794.