Join this public health effort and help decrease
youth tobacco use
By Rebecca Hart, M.D.
Happy anniversary, Tar Wars! Did you know that Tar Wars, AAFP’s tobacco-free education program, celebrated 25 years in 2012? To mark this milestone, the National Tar Wars Advisory Group wants to re-energize the program.
Remember Tar Wars? Most of you may have been involved in medical school or residency, giving talks to fifth-grade students at local schools. You went into the classroom with about 30 kids and had a fun interactive session talking about smoking, questioning them about what they knew, educating them, and inviting them to do their own creative thinking about how to stay smoke free. You then invited them to make a smoke-free poster and enter the national poster contest. Kids love the interactive presentation, and really enjoy the contest. It was fun for you and was a great community service.
Tar Wars’ mission is to teach kids about being tobacco free, give them tools to make positive decisions about their health, and promote personal responsibility for their well-being. It accomplishes its goals with the help of family physicians, educators, and other health care professionals, like residents and medical students, who give presentations to students at school.
Tar Wars promotes advocacy for tobacco-free activities in communities, such as clean air ordinances and smoking bans in workplaces. The annual Tar Wars National Conference is part of this, as an opportunity to stress to legislators the importance of tobacco control. Student poster winners from the Tar Wars Poster Contest gather in Washington, D.C., to learn more about being tobacco free, meet their state congressmen and women, present them with their state winning poster, and talk about the project with them.
This last summer, I had the privilege of accompanying our national first place winner, Juan Elizondo of Houston, Texas, to meet Sen. John Cornyn at the Capitol Building in Washington. It was a great moment for him and 50 other kids from around the country. What an exciting prize for a fifth-grader to earn from being involved in a poster contest about staying smoke free! Juan’s poster said, “Say no to tobacco – Blow bubbles, not smoke.” It was a painting of a girl blowing bubbles with a little boy looking up at her. It is a great, positive message that he created. Every year there are hundreds of these messages generated by American kids who are prompted to think about the advantages of being smoke free for life.
In Texas, in the last year, Tar Wars has reached over 13,000 students at 137 schools across the state. Last year there were at least 240 presentations given with even more plans for this year. Residencies throughout the state sent residents into schools, medical school FMIG groups participated, and multiple private doctors gave presentations locally. But we can do even better with more participation!
In honor of its 25th anniversary year, I urge you to become more involved in Tar Wars locally. Here are a few ways can you get involved as a family physician in Texas.
- Contact our state coordinator, Juleah Williams, by calling her at the TAFP office at (512) 329-8666, or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Work with your local chapter to sponsor speakers for local schools. Some chapters sponsor a classroom, such as providing $25 for art supplies for the poster contest.
- Log on to the Tar Wars Facebook site or the Tar Wars website and download the presentation.
- Consider a donation to the national Tar Wars effort.
It’s easy to get involved, so do it as a great community service activity. Tar Wars is a positive, worthwhile program, sponsored by our own AAFP. Through Tar Wars, we teach kids about a tobacco-free life. We teach them to gain a greater understanding of the problem of tobacco abuse and addiction, to advocate for tobacco-free lives, and learn how they can make a difference in their community. Join me. Be a part of it!
Dr. Hart is a member of the AAFP Commission on Health of the Public and Science, and serves as the national chair of the Tar Wars Advisory Group.