Educators try to spread the message that 'Smoking Stinks' LTC


"Does everyone know what tobacco is?" asked Wendy Roberts, an anti-smoking educator who had just arrived at Arnold Elementary School, the second stop on her daylong tour of children's summer camps.

"Yes," shouted back the 50 campers, ages 5 to 11, sitting cross-legged on the gymnasium floor.

"Do you know what chewing tobacco is?" Ms. Roberts queried.

"Ecccchhhhhhhhhh!" shouted the little campers.

Things were going well.

But then a hand shot up from the crowd.

"On TV, Beavis and Butthead are always chewing tobacco," offered 7-year-old Sean Duffy, of Annapolis.

"Well," explained Ms. Roberts. "That's not a very good example to set, is it?"

For the next 30 minutes, Ms. Roberts, who works for the county health department, kept the children engaged as she presented her no-smoking message, using a modified "Wheel of Fortune" game.

With each spin of her big game wheel, the group covered another topic related to smoking, from health hazards to peer pressure to helping adults kick the habit.

As a community outreach assistant for the countywide "Learn to Live" cancer-reduction campaign, Ms. Roberts is visiting 25 summer camps and playgrounds throughout the county to spread the word to more than 500 youngsters: "Smoking Stinks."

The slogan for the campaign is geared to children under 15, was developed by the health department with the help of local teen-agers.

"We tried to get a slogan kids would relate to," said Ms. Roberts, sporting a "Smoking Stinks" T-shirt, complete with a picture of a skunk with a cigarette dangling from its mouth.

Since the campaign began last fall, the county has held a conference to educate community leaders about the problem and a pizza party at Marley Station Mall to bring teens together to discuss the issue. Ms. Roberts and about 15 teen volunteers also visited elementary and middle schools and boys and girls clubs.

"The whole idea is to get them before they start smoking," Ms. Roberts explained.

The youngsters at Arnold Elementary Summer Playground, a day camp run by the county's Department of Parks and Recreation, were receptive.

Wearing big red stickers featuring the smoking skunk, they leaned forward, waving their arms eagerly trying to answer Ms. Roberts' questions.

"Do you know how much money advertisers spend promoting tobacco every day?" Ms. Roberts asked.

"A couple thousand?" ventured one camper.

"No, $5 million," replied another.

"I think it's $5 trillion," answered a third.

"Well, not quite that much. It's $11 million a day," said Ms. Roberts. "If they can afford $11 million a day for advertising, think how much they make from people smoking."

The children could barely imagine.

"Why do you think people smoke?" she continued.

"They keep smoking because it gets to be a habit," answered 6-year-old Rebecca Abels of Annapolis. "And then they can't stop."

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