Through With Chew Week Assembly Grabs Attention
By Tammy Slaughter
February 23, 2018

I was invited to speak at the Dunnellon Christian Academy SWAT Club Assembly for Through with Chew Week.  Approximately 75 students were in attendance, ranging from 5th grade and up.

The students were very excited to have a guest speaker and to learn about the different forms of smokeless tobacco and electronic drug delivery system (EDDS) devices.  Several students shared stories of their family members who use tobacco in various forms, and how it affects them directly. These examples included smoking in cars and visiting family members who have tobacco odors on their clothes.  Many students expressed that they knew of at least one person who has used tobacco products, and about 1/3 said they knew someone who has used a smokeless tobacco product.  When asked if the students knew anyone who used an EDDS device, about half the students raised their hands.

As part of any presentation given for SWAT Clubs, we always include facts and information on “Big Tobacco” and the tactics that they use to market their products towards youth.  This is the heart of the SWAT program and the basis for forming youth empowerment model clubs.  We educate the youth on the amount of people who die each year from tobacco related illnesses, why the tobacco industry is so very interested in targeting them directly, about product placements in retail stores, why products are only allowed in certain places, and about the dangers of becoming addicted to tobacco products at such a young age.  Many of the youth think that if they do use tobacco products, they will not become life long users. They truly believe they will be the in the minority of people who are classified as casual tobacco users and that they will not become addicted.  At this point, I like to ask the group if any of them have grandparents who currently smoke.  Without fail at least 10% will raise their hands.  I then ask if they know how old their grandparent was when they started using, and their response is almost always in the teenage years.  I then tell them to do the math.  For many of these youths the total number of years is 50 years or greater.  This is a very powerful tool for helping youth understand the powerful addiction tobacco products.

This time during the presentation there was an out of the ordinary interruption near the end of the assembly. I asked if there were any questions from the audience and a teacher had their hand raised.  When I called on this teacher, they expressed to me that they were offended that I was “demonizing” the tobacco industry by spreading “propaganda” and that tobacco is a perfectly legal industry and no laws have been broken.  My response was that I was not here to debate tobacco as a legal industry but whether the tobacco industry behaves ethically in their targeting of youth.  He spouted back that the tobacco industry has not broken any laws or behaved unethically.  I pointed out that it has already been proven that the industry lied about the dangers of their products and that is why we now have tobacco settlement money to fund such programs as the SWAT Club and other prevention programs.  This teacher compared the death toll from tobacco related illnesses to that of the number of babies being aborted each year, and why are we not doing something about that.  At this point, the students at the assembly were becoming upset and started pleading with the teacher to be quiet.  The teacher finally took the hint from his students and exited the assembly. Oddly, as this person receded to the hallway area, they shouted to the students “Don’t smoke!” 

It was a very surreal experience and I have never encountered such an outburst from an adult.   The youth were apologetic for their mentors outburst and could not have disagreed more with thier behavior.  I closed out my presentation by telling the youth that we do live in a democracy where they have the legal right to use tobacco products, as an adult, if they decide to make that choice.  I was there simply to give them all the information they needed to make an educated decision once they turn 18.

All in all, the outcome of the Through with Chew presentation was positive. They asked some great questions and shared touching stories from personal experiences with tobacco products and family members usage.  As always, they were inquisitive, engaged, receptive to the message and above all polite.  I can’t wait to go back and see them for Kick Butts Day!

For more information, please contact Tammy Slaughter, SWAT Coordinator for Marion County, at tslaughter@quitdoc.com or by cell at 352-359-5383.