Four young people are making the rounds of children's summer programs and camps across Anne Arundel County, using games and a little gore to deliver a healthy message: "Smoking Stinks."
The effort - a summer job for the foursome - is a part of a county Health Department campaign carrying the same name as the message. They aim to reach close to 50 public and private camps to teach younger children about the consequences of chewing or smoking tobacco.
"Kids really look to older kids for the message," said Phillip J. Sears, special programs coordinator for the department. "If they hear the message coming from a teen, it really hits home at lot harder."
Carrying the message are 21-year-old Jennifer K. Duvall of Edgewater and 16-year-olds Samantha L. Brown of Severna Park, Serena M. Flood of Pasadena and Brandon L. VanBibber of Severn.
Their goal is to reach nearly 1,700 children.
It is a first job for Flood, who said she didn't want her first foray into the working world to involve fast food and wanted to work with children. She is also motivated because many of her family members smoke and she is encouraging them to stop, Flood said.
The program engages children ages 5 to 12 to think about the seriousness of smoking and how closely it affects them.
Brown said, "I want to get the message to them when they're young, so they don't have a problem when they're 16 or 17."
Yesterday, visiting a camp at Brooklyn Park-Lindale Middle School, Duvall posed a question to begin the 40-minute educational program: "How many of you know someone who smokes or chews tobacco?"
Every child raised a hand.
The workers also help children experience the detrimental effects of smoking - without the children having to take so much as a puff. The children were handed a straw to breathe through while holding their noses and jumping up and down. As they quickly run out of breath, the young educators explain how smoking damages the lungs.
The children at every stop also receive pamphlets on chewing tobacco that include gruesome pictures of mouth cancer and gum disease.
"In dealing with kids, pictures say a thousand words and they really stick in their mind," Sears explained.
Imagery is used to explain some of the 4,000 chemicals that health officials say can be found in a cigarette. "Dead bodies, stuff to clean toilets, and rat poison," Duvall rattled off to help the children understand three of the more nefarious substances: formaldehyde, ammonia and DDT.
The four young instructors say they, too, have learned from the program.
Flood noted that she never knew before that every 13 seconds someone dies from a tobacco-related condition.
A 6-year-old camper, Danielle, who did not know how to spell her last name, said she learned that "it's really, really bad to smoke because you lose seven minutes of your life each time you do."
VanBibber hopes the message will have long-lasting effects. "You get joy in knowing you might keep someone from smoking for the rest of their life," he said.
Duvall added, "There's a lot of personal gain when you see how inspired they get."