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UTHSC Students Promote Tobacco-Free Lifestyles Through TAR WARS Elementary Education Program

UTHSC students use the TAR WARS program to teach elementary school students the importance of being tobacco-free. (Photo provided by Dr. Beth Choby/UTHSC)


On October 4th, over 100 medical, occupational therapy and pharmacy students from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) took time out of their schedules to teach TAR WARS, a school-based, tobacco-free education program, to a total of 800 students at 10 local Memphis elementary schools. The students educated mostly fourth and fifth graders about the dangers of smoking, chewing tobacco and using vapor cigarettes.

Developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians in 1988, TAR WARS is sponsored by the Tennessee Academy of Family Physicians. The program gets children thinking and talking about the short-term effects and image-based consequences of tobacco use. It explains how the tobacco industry specifically targets kids in advertising and other media.

A student from St. Augustine Catholic School eagerly participates in a TAR WARS session. (Photo provided by Dr. Beth Choby/UTHSC)

TAR WARS focuses not only on teaching children about the health risks of tobacco use, it also strives to appeal to what interests a 9 to 11-year-old child. “We try to put it into a their perspective because we realize some young people choose to start smoking, chewing tobacco or using nicotine products in the early adolescent years,” said Beth Choby, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Medical Education in the College of Medicine at UTHSC and a faculty member with the Baptist/ Church Health Family Medicine Residency Program. “With the newer nicotine delivery systems, talking with children about being nicotine/tobacco free is an even more important health message.”

The program highlights the costs of using tobacco products both in terms of money and health. “One of the exercises we do involves having them breathe through straws, letting them experience how hard it is to breathe when your lungs have been damaged by years of smoking,” Dr. Choby said. “People who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, often develop similar problems after years of tobacco use. Long term tobacco use increases risk for COPD, lung cancer, asthma and other conditions. If we want our children to be healthier in the future, educating them now about how to make smart choices is important.”