Student group takes anti-smoking stand
Bonita Springs Middle School has a new weapon to keep students from smoking. Itâ€™s called the SWAT team.
While the SWAT team might sound like something swooping in and yanking cigarettes from youngsters, itâ€™s really a lot more tame.
SWAT stands for Students Working Against Tobacco. The dozen students who spend one week a month learning about the dangers of smoking say they donâ€™t do it for themselves, but rather to help others.
The sixth- through eighth-graders who listen to guest speakers talk about the dangers of smoking arenâ€™t really the audience that most needs this advice. The SWAT members say theyâ€™ll never smoke. Instead, their goal is to teach others about the dangers of smoking.
â€œI tell my dad to stop smoking,â€ said Michael Antfeld, 13, a seventh-grader. â€œI tell him itâ€™s not good for him. Whenever Iâ€™m in the car I want to take away his cigarettes and throw them out the window.â€
Joanna Nieto, 11, a sixth-grader, wants her two uncles to stop smoking.
â€œI know that cigarettes cause cancer, but I want to learn more about it, so I can tell my uncles why they should stop smoking,â€ she said.
The students say itâ€™s a lot easier to tell a relative than a classmate.
Alex Pass, 13, and Amy Rubin, 14, said theyâ€™ll never smoke. But they want to do more than keep their lungs clean, they want to convince their classmates to do the same. And thatâ€™s not easy.
â€œItâ€™s hard to pinpoint the kids who are smoking and talk to them because they wonâ€™t listen,â€ Amy said.
The goal isnâ€™t to tell students not to smoke, itâ€™s to tell them the dangers of smoking so they will want to stop. But even thatâ€™s not easy.
â€œYou canâ€™t do that,â€ Amy said. â€œYouâ€™re afraid to go up to them.â€
Instead, Alex and Amy, who help run the meetings with their adviser Gregg Cross, say the best way to reach students is in large groups rather than confronting individual smokers.
The girls plan to hold assemblies at the school with guest speakers. They plan to put up posters around the school promoting the dangers of smoking.
â€œI donâ€™t think enough people are paying attention to it,â€ Amy said.
The students also hope to enlist the help of the student council, which they say has more power in the school than the newly formed small SWAT team.
Cross decided to form a SWAT team this year after hearing about it over the summer. He already oversaw the schoolâ€™s SADD team, which stands for Students Against Destructive Decisions. Most of the students from SADD also joined SWAT.
â€œI can speak until Iâ€™m blue in the face, about smoking, but the kids wonâ€™t listen. But if there are these kids out there who can talk to them, it might work better,â€ Cross said. â€œEven though theyâ€™re not the kids weâ€™re after, theyâ€™re the kids that arenâ€™t afraid to speak their minds.â€
At Novemberâ€™s meeting, Deborah Hein, a nurse practitioner at Florida Cancer Specialists, was the guest speaker.
â€œI want to convince them to never start smoking,â€ Hein said. â€œOnce you start itâ€™s very hard to quit, and you never fully recover from all the bad effects you get from smoking.â€
The SWAT program is funded from tobacco settlement money. Cross recently received a $5,000 grant to help plan a rodeo with his students in February. The tobacco-free event will be aimed at convincing people not to smoke.
â€œWe really donâ€™t tell people not to do things, we just tell them the consequences,â€ Cross said. â€œItâ€™s like putting some bait out there.â€