Educators are targeting younger and younger children to teach
them about the dangers of smoking.
The efforts now extend to kindergarten children - almost all of
whom are not interested in smoking at all. But antismoking groups
believe the only way to counter the effects of tobacco company
marketing, peer pressure, and adult smoking is to start educating
children well before they are interested in tobacco products.
Recently, Scholastic Magazine and the American Lung Association
introduced a new book, "The Berenstain Bear Scouts and the Sinister
Smoke Ring," which is aimed at second- to fifth-grade children.
Last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) began a cartoon
character, "The Extinguisher," a superhero who rescues kids who are
going to vending machines for cigarettes or wearing clothing
promoting tobacco products.
The cartoon character, supplemented by an actor who travels
around the US, is aimed at children kindergarten through Grade 5.
And Weekly Reader, which competes with Scholastic, is planning an
April cover story for Grades 3 to 6 on the detrimental effects of
Antismoking advocates believe it's worth trying such approaches.
"We don't know if it will be successful unless we try it," says
Nancy Kaufman, a vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation in Princeton, N.J.
She says one reason past efforts have failed is because they
have been one-shot programs in health classes. Instead, she says
what may be successful is teaching kids about smoking in media
literacy classes, social studies, or other areas that have a
context kids can relate to.
Influence of peers, ads
Trying to reach younger children is a necessity, says John
Pierce, a professor of cancer prevention at the University of
California, San Diego. Mr. Pierce says research has shown that kids
start the process of smoking prior to the age of experimentation,
which is usually ages 12 to 15.
William Novelli, executive director of the Campaign for
Tobacco-Free Kids, observes that most children start off with a
dislike of tobacco. Most preteens consider smoking "yucky" or
"dirty" and are repelled when they smell cigarettes.
But only a few years later, some of those same children are
willing to try a cigarette with a friend. "Something happens," Mr.
Novelli says. "Some of it is peer persuasion, some of it is
advertising and marketing."
To measure susceptibility to smoking, researchers ask children
if they would be willing to take a cigarette from a friend. If a
child says he or she "probably" won't take the cigarette, Pierce
has found the child is at risk to smoke.
Pierce's research has found that at age 10, 15 percent of the
children said they "probably" wouldn't take the cigarette, while 85
percent said they "definitely" would not. By age 13, 50 percent
indicated they "probably" would not. "The susceptibility is there
at a younger age," Pierce says.
Initially, it seems as if it would be easy to reach young kids
with an antismoking message. But according to Stan Berenstain,
author of the Bear Scout book, it's not so simple.
Twelve years ago, then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop suggested
to Mr. Berenstain that he write an antismoking book using his
bears. "He observed that kids found the characters persuasive,"
says Berenstain, who resisted because he found it too difficult to
handle smoking issues, such as peer pressure and advertising, in
the 32-page format he used at a previous publisher.
After he joined Scholastic in 1995, he started writing longer,
more complex books, designed for a slightly older readers.
Scholastic agreed to publish a 116-page book, in which the Bear
Scouts face the advertising prowess of the Moose Tobacco Company
and its Moe Moose mascot. …