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Bonar Law Memorial High School’s Teens Against Tobacco Use Club Uses Engaging Peer-Lead Outreach to Help Its Student Population Be Smoke-Free.

Published in June 2016

By Nathalie Landry - NBATC Communications Coordinator

Bonar Law Memorial High School’s (Rexton, New Brunswick) It’s Quitting Time project has got its grade 9 through 12 Teens Against Tobacco Use Club members coming up with creative ways to get their peers to adopt healthy smoke-free lifestyles. 

“I used to be a smoker myself and have been a non-smoker for the past 22 years,” says club Chaperone and Community Schools Coordinator for Rexton Area Schools, Cheryl Warman. “I am well aware of how hard it is for the students to quit smoking once they start and get addicted, as well as how easy it is to be initiated to smoking. When I met with the students of the Teens Against Tobacco Use Club earlier this past school year, we decided we would apply for a Take Action Against Tobacco Use (TATU) Grant offered by the New Brunswick Department of Social Development to help us lead a plethora of activities to educate the student population on the risks of smoking and how to quit.” 

Because of Bonar Law Memorial High School’s diverse cultural environment, the group felt it was important they take a look at the different ways tobacco is used and keep in mind that their First Nations youth and their families, approximately 52% of the student population, look at tobacco differently.

“Tobacco is a real issue in our school. Because of the sacred nature of tobacco for First Nations, tobacco is easily available within the community. It is important to recognize the sacred nature and differentiate between traditional use and the negative effects of recreational tobacco use. So, when we sat down to jot down some ideas, our main objective was not to be preachy in our approach.” 

One of the very first objectives established by the dozen or so students involved with the Teens Against Tobacco Use Club thought of was to ensure their efforts were highly visible. They wanted all their activities to be branded with a new and improved logo. They thus decided to host a logo design contest at the school, which took place in December 2015, and allowed for the development of all kinds of outreach materials. “Our new logo is on all the materials the club members use when doing outreach within the school, like our kiosk’s tablecloth, hats, t-shirts and other trinkets. We also used some of our TATU Grant money to order some educational resources on the dangers of smoking and how to quit. These include brochures and handouts, as well as games and promotional items, like bingo, crossword puzzles, and small fake plastic cigarettes that say ‘Every time you smoke, you lose 40 seconds of your life’. The students have handed out these ‘cigarettes’ to peers who were heading outside the school’s grounds to smoke. It reminds smokers of the risks they are taking, and many students have held on to these as a reminder and motivation to quit.” 

The Teens Against Tobacco Use Club held many outreach activities - often on a weekly basis - over the past winter months. Warman says she is amazed and inspired by the students’ creativity.  For example, the club members held a colouring contest as a way to show smokers alternatives to dealing with stress, inviting them to spend the lunch hour colouring in adult colouring books instead of going out for a cigarette break.  They have also handed out homemade ‘Quit Kits’, with candy to keep cravings down for smokers as well as contact information for the Rexton Health Centre’s Smoking Cessation Program. 

“We have a partnership with the Rexton Health Centre, which is where we can refer any student smokers who want to quit to get help,” explains Warman. “Two nurses from this centre came in and did a presentation at the school, which was attended by over 20 students smokers wanting to quit.”

This spring, a bingo tournament is in the works as well as a Wheel of Fortune event, which aim to educate on healthy smoke-free lifestyles in a fun non-threatening-way. Activities will continue until the end of the school year, and most likely resume in the fall.

“Out of all of the activities, I would say the most impressive has been the ‘Thought of the Day’, which relays an anti-smoking message and is filmed and shown in all classrooms as part of the daily school announcements,” adds Warman. “The students from the club take turns being filmed in front of a green screen presenting the Thought of the Day. Since it is filmed, it is not only broadcast into each classroom, but also put up on the school’s website. The Thought of the Day has really resonated with all the students in the school. I think it is very effective for youth smokers to have their peers, instead of an adult or nurse or medical person, giving them food for thought about not smoking and quitting smoking. It’s much more relatable.”

Examples of Thoughts of the Day relayed by the Teens Against Tobacco Use Club: 

  • “A used car and insurance could cost $2000... That’s equal to 165 packs of cigarettes! How many packs a week do you smoke? You could own a car this year!"
  • “Ask yourself, is my second-hand smoke affecting someone I love?”
  • “You are not a loser if you try to quit smoking and fail… You lose when you don’t try at all!
  • “Instead of going to the road every morning to smoke, ask yourself, what else can  I do to keep busy?"

“I’m really proud of the students in the club,” says Warman. “I am the club Chaperone, but I am just there to ensure they have support. The ideas come from the students, and they are responsible for leading each activity. We’ve had four regular meetings since the club started this past year, and the students are so enthusiastic that they are always popping into my office with ideas. I give them the green light to go out and lead their activities.”

Student Brianna Forbes won the Teens Against Tobacco Use’s logo design contest.
She is shown here receiving a t-shirt from TATU Club members Mike Mitton and Iricia Flint-Downey.

The club members’ efforts seem to be slowly starting to impact their peers. Warman says the Thought of the Day initiative in particular has been very well received, and some student smokers are now seeking help to quit smoking. “I know of one young man who comes to see me often. He carries one of the little ‘cigarettes’ that the club gave out with the 40-second message in his pocket at all times. It motivates him to cut back on his cigarette consumption. He’s been cutting back and coming to me and his peers for support.”

Bravo Bonar Law Memorial High School for presenting the anti-smoking message in a positive and engaging peer-led way!

Photos and story used with permission from Bonar Law Memorial High School.

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