By Ms. Virginia Reza (IMCOM)December 2, 2008
FORT BLISS, Texas--"Say no - no to smoking," chanted the children Thursday as they walked around Kelly Park during the Great American Smokeout event held at Fort Bliss.
More than 200 children ages three, four and five from the Fort Bliss Child Development centers rotated through eight stations where they learned about the dangers of smoking.
"We want to start them off young because at this age they absorb everything, "said Bruce Gramlich, chief of Health Promotion at William Beaumont Army Medical Center and Fort Bliss.
Representatives of Public Health Nursing, Health Promotions, Texas A & M Colonias, Fort Bliss Fire Department, Army Community Services, Army Substance Abuse, Department of State Health Services, American Lung Association, and more were present to inform and answer questions about the hazards of smoking.
"We are teaching the kids to be their own advocates," said Becky Zima regional coordinator for the Tobacco Program at the Texas Department of State Health Services, "... many times adults don't take them into consideration and children who are exposed to second hand smoke usually have higher rates of ear and throat infections. They can also become smokers because the behavior is being modeled around them. So we are teaching them to speak up and say, 'stop, do not smoke around me.'"
The children made hats and banners with no smoking signs and competed for the best design. The winners were rewarded with a pizza party.
"I learned that smoke makes people's tongues brown," said three-year old Allison.
November is Great American Smokeout month and Fort Bliss officials encourage military servicemembers and their families to take part in the annual event Nov. 20.
The Great American Smokeout is the American Cancer Society's nationally recognized day that promotes tobacco free behavior for 24 hours.
The smoking rate among 18-to-25-year olds in the military is 40 percent, significantly higher than their civilian counterparts or of older, higher-ranking military members. Alarmingly, a large number of these young enlisted men and women don't begin using tobacco until after they enlist. Nearly 39 percent of current smokers began smoking after they joined the military, according to the Office of the Army Surgeon General.