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UTHSC Students Spread Awareness About Dangers of Smoking, Vaping

UTHSC students presented TAR WARS, an education program on the hazards of smoking and vaping, at six elementary schools in Memphis. Pictured are UTHSC students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School. (Photo by Rachel Samuel/UTHSC)

Medical, nursing, and pharmacy students from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center visited six elementary schools in Memphis this month to educate students about the dangers of smoking, chewing tobacco, and vaping/e-cigarettes through the annual TAR WARS program.

TAR WARS is a school-based, tobacco-free education program. Developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians in 1988, TAR WARS is supported by the Tennessee Academy of Family Physicians. The goal is to get children thinking and talking about the short-term effects and image-based consequences of tobacco use. It explains how the tobacco industry specifically targets young people in advertising and other media. The program also highlights the costs of using tobacco products.

The UTHSC College of Medicine has presented the program annually for seven years. This year, vaping education and awareness was a major focus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of vaping illnesses in Tennessee continue to rise, however, there have been no deaths in the state. Nationwide, there have been 26 deaths in 21 states.

“The TAR WARS program is a UTHSC student favorite in terms of our service-learning projects, said Beth Choby, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Medical Education and director of the Clinical Medicine Course in the College of Medicine. “The focus is on fourth- and fifth-grade elementary students. While this seems young, statistics show that many kids are offered their first nicotine-containing products in the middle school years. With vaping and e-cigarettes increasingly being used by young people, our goal is to provide kids with information that they can use later to make healthy decisions when offered cigarettes, chewing tobacco products, or e-cigarettes.”

Second-year medical student Chris Stadnick was part of the TAR WARS program presented at Holy Rosary Catholic School. “Our expectations were that the kids would have some baseline knowledge on the dangers of cigarettes and that they would be open to more information,” he said. “The kids had a lot of questions regarding smoking, JUULs (e-cigarettes), and addiction. They were very familiar with JUULs and how prevalent they are in popular culture. It was interesting to see how these kids interpreted different explanations and the different questions they came up with. Some questions were of things we would’ve never even thought of, if we had not been teaching these kids. Overall, we thought it was a wonderful experience and we hope the students got as much out of it as we did.”

For more information about the TAR WARS program, visit www.tarwars.org.