HANCOCK - With all the ink showing up on young people these days, many parents would not be thrilled to find their teen joined a group called tattoo. That is unless TATU stood for Teens Against Tobacco Use.
TATU, an American Lung Association peer education program, trains high school students to teach elementary school students about the hazards of tobacco use.
During the 2007-08 school year, more than 20 students from Calumet and Hancock high schools were trained in TATU. They joined teens from 27 Michigan high schools to take part in a tobacco prevention program entitled "Fight the Light, Fight for Life," funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
The Western Upper Peninsula District Health Department, a leader in tobacco prevention for more than a decade, received grant funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield to undertake the project.
Gail Ploe, WUPDHD prevention specialist, coordinated activities in both schools.
"Students had a variety of reasons for wanting to get involved," Ploe said, "but the one thing they had in common was enthusiasm and creativity."
Both Hancock and Calumet TATU groups offered an assembly-style tobacco education/prevention program to all fourth and fifth grade students in their districts.
"We put together a super hero skit ... and gave the kids facts about tobacco and what it does to you," Hancock High School senior Kerri Mayra said.
Deseray Pohjola, also a senior at Hancock, said being involved in TATU allowed her to be a positive role model.
"I think that the younger kids look up to the older kids and when they see that we aren't using tobacco, then maybe they won't," she said.
Presentations in both schools
were well-received, as evidenced by the fact that audience members had plenty of questions. The Calumet TATU group followed up the elementary presentation with visits to all sixth grade classrooms.
Dan Stahl, a recent graduate of Calumet High School, said "We talked about how addictive nicotine is and told them about the 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes. There was more interaction with the kids, too."
One important message teens wanted to explain to elementary students was how they are targeted by the tobacco industry. As an example of this, they showed the youngsters products like beef jerky chew, bubble gum chew, candy cigarettes and flavored cigars, packaged in colorful tubes that are easily mistaken for a marker or piece of gum. Although the cigarillos contain tobacco, retailers are not required to keep them behind the counter and out of reach of children.
TATU students didn't limit their tobacco prevention efforts to the elementary and middle schools. With the help of their Students Against Destructive Decisions advisor Elsa Green the Calumet students staged their very own Smoke-Out in the high school. They set up an information table, complete with a jar of tar and passed out Quit Kits for students who smoke or chew.
To raise awareness of the deadly toll tobacco takes in our country, students printed white T-shirts with the number 1,200 on them to represent the number of people who die every day in the United States from tobacco-related disease and illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Several Hancock students participated in a telephone survey of Keweenaw County residents to gauge the level of support for a county-wide clean indoor air regulation. They prepared and shared the results of this survey with county commissioners. TATU members also recorded radio ads, the most popular being a jingle of cigarette ingredients sung by recent Calumet graduate Meghan Nakkula and sophomore Julia Feeley.
For more information about tobacco prevention programs, please call Gail Ploe at 482-7382.
For help quitting, call Michigan's Quit Line at 1-800-480-7848.
Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by the Western Upper Peninsula District Health Department of Hancock. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.