Educating Youth about the Dangers of Smoking

 Published: August 29, 2018

By: Heather Willden


image of teenagers exchanging cigarettes

Smoking cigarettes has always had a certain appeal to children anxious to try out perceived adult behaviors. But picking up the habit in childhood can have lasting – and devastating – effects. Respiratory therapists can play a big role in making sure fewer children take up the habit and end up with a smoking-related disease.

Address nicotine addiction

“In general young people think they are invincible and that smoking won’t affect them,” said Susan Rinaldo Gallo, MEd, RRT, FAARC, from Duke Health in Durham, NC. “Therefore telling them about harmful effects that may occur 20 or 30 years in the future is not very effective.”

Focusing on other detrimental aspects of smoking – like its propensity for causing bad breath and the expense involved – may make a greater impact on our youth. But with the rise in the use of e-cigarettes, Rinaldo Gallo believes any discussion about smoking must include an explanation of nicotine addiction as well.

“It is so important to educate young people on the dangers of all aspects of tobacco and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as e-cigarettes,” Rinaldo Gallo said. “With the increased use of these systems, there is a danger of normalizing this habit.”

Rinaldo Gallo notes traditional cigarette smoking has declined to around 16 percent of the population, but ENDS are on the upswing and no one really knows how dangerous they are.

“The facts are that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional combustible cigarettes because they do not contain most of the cancer-causing components of traditional cigarettes. However, no one knows the long-term harmful effects of e-cigs,” she said. “We do know that they contain nicotine, which causes heart disease and is very addictive.”

She also notes e-cigarettes may act as a gateway to traditional cigarette use.

New workbook series

Clearly, educating children about the harmful effects of smoking requires a coordinated approach, and Maryann Gladfelter, BA, RRT, is now providing it. She and her partners recently launched a website called Smoking Totally Not Cool that offers training workbooks and DVDs for K-5 educators.

“Many years ago, Respiratory Care Week prompted my interest in a community outreach, which led to educating children about the dangers of smoking,” said the New Jersey RT. “Creating free educational materials came from the request of several public schools.”

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Working with a small team of volunteers, along with a school administrator who developed the lesson plans included in the free resources, Gladfelter wrote the content for the workbooks and put together a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough money to finish the project.

Each workbook begins with an introduction of the author, describing their role as a respiratory therapist.

The workbooks are designed to appeal to children in each grade level. For example, kindergarteners learn where the lungs are located in the body, how they breathe for them, and how smoking can turn their nice pink lungs brown. In fifth grade, children review what they’ve learned through the program over the past five years and then are asked to live a smoke-free life.

Looking for more? Check outTobacco-Free Lifestyle in AARConnect or AARC Tobacco Resources!

For Gladfelter, developing this program and using these workbooks in the schools has helped her give back to her community.

Email with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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