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Doctor fighting 'tar wars'

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Even though Dr. Melinda Greenfield typically comes into the schools to talk about skin issues, the cause to eliminate tobacco is just as close to her as it is to anyone else in the medical field.

Greenfield, a physician from Albany Dermatology Clinic, recently spoke to a group of students at Lake Park Elementary School in an effort to promote the "Tar Wars" campaign in Albany.

Tar Wars, initiated in 1988 by a doctor and health educator from the Denver area, is a tobacco-free education program for fourth- and fifth-grade students. The program is designed to teach children about the short-term, image-based consequences of tobacco use, the cost associated with using tobacco products and the advertising techniques used by the tobacco industry to market their products to youth.

The first thing Greenfield touched on, after conducting a survey with the group to determine how many adults they think smoke, was the advertising piece.

"The reason a lot of kids think (many) adults smoke is because of the advertising," she said.

The survey results indicated that the children in the group believe more than 75 percent of adults smoke. The actual number is closer to 20 percent.

To bring the point of the advertising aspect home, Greenfield passed out advertisements from magazines to the class in order to demonstrate how smoking cigarettes might be appealing to young audiences.

"They are trying to tell you things that aren't the truth," Greenfield said to the students.

The physician also made a point of mentioning how much of a hold an addiction can have on a person.

"Even if they decide to quit it's hard because they're addicted," Greenfield said. "The best thing to do is not go there in the first place."

The program also includes a follow-up poster contest conducted at the school, state and national level to reinforce the Tar Wars message -- which Greenfield got her audience started on.

The contest winners and their families are eligible to attend the Tar Wars National Conference in Washington, D.C.

Tar Wars, which is owned and operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), is implemented in classrooms across the United States and abroad by volunteer presenters.

"It's important to try to reverse what the ads are doing," Greenfield said following her presentation. "The goal is to de-program children at an age in which it is influential."

Tobacco has adverse impacts on numerous aspects of a person's health, including the skin -- which makes the message from the dermatology perspective significant.

"(Tobacco) breaks down collagen," Greenfield said. "The skin cancer risk is higher and it will age you faster."

Greenfield was introduced to the Tar Wars campaign a few years ago, and has been attempting to launch it in Albany ever since.

"I want to branch it out and make it a set thing," she said. "Hopefully someone will come forward and say that they want to be a part of it."

Currently, 47 AAFP constituent chapters and/or foundations are directly supporting and coordinating the program. Tar Wars is the first youth tobacco education program to be offered by a medical specialty organization in the U.S. It reaches approximately 400,000 students annually.

The program has been active in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the uniformed services and Canada as well as a number of other countries. To date, Tar Wars has reached eight million children worldwide.