By JOY BUCHANAN
Published: Tuesday, 07/25/06
Kids protest secondhand smoke
Last month, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said the debate was over: Secondhand smoke is dangerous and particularly harmful to children. But quitting is extremely difficult, and smokers almost always fail on their first try.
Some local health workers say maybe people's own children will be able to persuade them — or even guilt them — into giving up the habit.
Deborah Blockmon, outreach worker for the Nashville REACH 2010 project, believes it can work. The project, Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, is part of a national effort to eliminate disparities in the health status of black and white Americans by 2010.
As a member of the two-person tobacco team for the project, Blockmon conducted smoking-cessation workshops for adults, but few of them sought help in quitting. Things were very different, however, when she talked to children at day care centers in north Nashville.
"I asked them if anyone in their family smoked and they said yes and they told me how it smells bad and makes them cough," she said.
So Blockmon created songs for children to sing every time someone lit a cigarette in their presence.
At Schrader Lane Childcare Center, she sang her song to the tune of "Three Blind Mice" with the students who were mostly 3 to 6 years old.
"I won't smoke. I won't smoke; When I grow up I won't smoke; It'll make you choke (cough). It'll make you choke (cough); When I grow up I won't smoke."
The kids loved it, especially the coughing part.
Either because of shame, curiosity or sheer amazement, children's parents started asking about quitting or at least wanted to know more about the affects of smoking on their children, Blockmon said.
Any exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults, according to the surgeon general's recent report on the effects of exposure to tobacco smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases a nonsmoker's risk of developing heart disease by 25 percent to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 percent to 30 percent.
The effects can be even stronger on infants and children. Secondhand smoke contains at least 50 cancer-causing chemicals. The surgeon general's report noted that infants and children are particularly vulnerable to those poisons because they are still developing. Secondhand smoke is known to cause sudden infant death, respiratory problems, ear infections and asthma attacks. Parents who smoke at home are stunting the growth of their children's lungs.
Nicotine addition is the primary reason why quitting is so difficult. Smoking cigarettes delivers a swift kick of nicotine to the brain, with drug levels peaking within 10 seconds of inhalation, according to NIDA.
Nicotine activates the pleasure and reward pathways of the brain, but the high wears off within minutes, which leads to frequent dosing — another puff or another cigarette.
But it's not just the chemical effects that lead to addiction. Cigarette smoking creates a powerful behavioral addiction. People get used to a cigarette between their fingers or to smoking at certain times of the day. People smoke when they are stressed, bored or angry. It becomes a routine and it's distressing when the routine is interrupted or eliminated, said Dr. Chrystal Clamp, an internal medicine physician at Centennial Medical Center.
For all those reasons, doctors cannot simply order a patient to stop smoking. "In order for a person to be successful, they have to want to quit," she said. "If they don't have the motivation, no medicine is going to make them quit."
Still, Blockmon said children will get a smoker's attention when another adult anti-smoking message will be dismissed.
"The children are powerful change agents," she said. "Children have no agenda and that gets adults' attention."
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I initially loved the idea, but I can see the adults get so sick of the kids singing stop-smoking songs to them that the kids would end up in trouble, so I wonder how this will work.