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Students hear anti-smoking message: Beware 'tobacco zombies'

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    A "tobacco zombie" wears a shirt bearing tobacco statistics during Wednesday's Kick Butts Day at Amherst Steele High School. It was part of a nationwide anti-tobacco campaign.



AMHERST — Teens are notorious for believing they are immortal.

So to get their point across, teens at Marion L. Steele High School last week dressed as the undead to graphically display the effects of tobacco use.

The students were part of the nationwide Kick Butts Day, sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. About 50 juniors and seniors in the school’s medical health technology program were part of Wednesday’s activities, dressed as “tobacco zombies” with shirts labeled with the names of people who died of tobacco-related diseases, said teacher Kim Haney.

There was a tombstone display with mini-histories of how the people died and a graphic exhibit of a healthy lung and a diseased lung from a pig cadaver. Students could inflate the lungs to see the difference in lung capacity, Haney said.

“It was a very graphic representation of what tobacco does to the lungs and how obstructed they are,” Haney said. “The biggest effect was the zombies. My students are able to tell a story: ‘Mildred started smoking at 13, and died at 57 of lung cancer.’ I could put up a billboard and say ‘Don’t smoke’ and I could dress up as a zombie and walk into an English class and they go ‘What’s that about?’”

The goal of the campaign is to make today’s teens the first generation to be tobacco-free. Public health campaigns to end smoking have been remarkably effective, but there still is so much to learn, she said.

Statistics show smoking is down but vaping, inhaling vapor from an electronic cigarette, is extremely popular and the science is still catching up on the risks, Haney said. While many vaping products label themselves as ‘nicotine-free,’ most do contain some nicotine and studies continue to emerge showing other hazards, like metal residue and increased cancer risks.

“If I ask a teen right now to name one friend who smokes, they say ‘none.’ But if you say ‘give me 10 kids who vape,’ they can,” she said.

The event culminated with students signing an oversized banner, pledging to stay away from tobacco products.

“In lunch we did a wellness fair. The zombies had other students sign the pledge. No brains were eaten,” Haney said.

Contact Rini Jeffers at 329-7155 or

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