The 800 students at Edward Town Middle School recently pledged not to start smoking, and they received some incentive to stand by their vow.
By participating in the Univera Healthcare 2Smart 2Start program, the students in the Niagara-Wheatfield school system signed a pledge to live a smoke-free life by not using tobacco products.
Pamela Pawenski, director of the Univera Healthcare Center for Better Health, said the key to the fledgling 2Smart 2Start program is the incentives to kids to sign the pledge.
"The thing the kids said to us when we were developing the program was, 'Instead of just coming in like the other grown-ups do and telling us not to smoke because it's bad for us, give us incentive to do the right thing.' The reward system for kids is what'll happen this afternoon, not what will happen when they are 62 years old," said Pawenski.
The students who sign the 2Smart 2Start pledge receive a discount card and special offers from stores and entertainment vendors such as movie theaters and sports teams.
"The idea is to give them rewards that are immediate." Pawenski said. "The question they ask is, 'Can I use this card today when I get out of school?' That's the future to them."
"What I really like is, when it comes to smoking, if you can keep kids from starting, that's the most effective means of prevention, because once kids get hooked," said Edward Town Principal Anthony Day said, "nicotine, like any other drug, has got them. . . . I like the fact kids made the pledges and had the opportunity to make the pledges, and, hopefully, it will make them stop and think somewhere farther down the line."
While Day says smoking is not a problem in the school, he concedes that there probably are students who smoke.
"Am I naive enough to think there aren't kids in our building who smoke? No, there absolutely are," Day said. "But in the two years that I've been here we've only had one incident. Generally speaking, if you don't have smoking, you don't have a lot of the other stuff."
The 2Smart 2Start program consists of four elements: the pledge, a theater performance, peer counseling and an educational program called Tar Wars.
The process for signing the pledge takes different forms, based on the needs of the school.
"We do different variations depending on the expectations of the school," Pawenski said. "We did Orchard Park a couple of weeks ago. They wanted some heavy-duty educational stuff to go along with the pledge-signing. What we do then is a program that talks about the economics of smoking. We say, 'OK -- how much do you think it costs to buy a pack of cigarettes?' They know it costs three or four bucks. Then we say, 'How much do you think is costs to make them?' They guess, and finally we tell them it costs about 3 cents to make a pack of cigarettes.
"They're all stunned. Then we talk about the cost of advertising. Then we talk about what they already know about the effects of smoking."
The theater performance focuses on the importance of making healthy choices and being a leader and not a follower. "It's done in a humorous manner and is enjoyable for adults as well as kids," she said.
Peer counseling is employed on the fourth-grade level to reinforce the anti-smoking message.
For more information about the 2Smart 2Start program, call 843-7878 or visit the Web site at univerahealthcare.org.