Tar Wars: Coming to the St. John Valley

FORT KENT, Maine — According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Maine is faced with discouraging statistics. Seven hundred kids in Maine become new daily smokers each year. Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined — and thousands more die from other tobacco-related causes — such as fires caused by smoking (more than 1,000 deaths/year nationwide).  

Tar Wars is a tobacco-free education program for fourth- and fifth-grade students. The program is designed to teach kids about the short-term health effects 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 Tar Wars program was developed by Jeff Cain, MD, and Glenna Pember of the Hall of Life, a division of the Denver Museum of Natural History, and Doctors Ought to Care (DOC) in 1988. Since the development of Tar Wars in 1988, the program has reached more than 10 million children worldwide.

The program is owned and operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and is consistent with the guidelines for youth tobacco prevention programs set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goals for the program are to: increase knowledge of short-term health effects and image-based consequences of tobacco use, illustrate the financial impact of using tobacco and ways money could be better spent, identify why people use tobacco and explain how tobacco advertising, tobacco use in movies, and the tobacco industry markets their products to youth. The program has shown to be effective in increasing students’ knowledge of and attitudes toward tobacco use and advertising.

A 2015 document published by the Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment reports current smoking in high school age students is 16%, tobacco use in the same age group is 18% and second hand smoke exposure in Aroostook County youth is statistically significant at 46% when compared to 38% in Maine. The Breathe Easy Coalition of Maine reports that every day, more than 3,200 people younger than 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette. The Breathe Easy Coalition of Maine’s mission is to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke through the promotion of strong voluntary policies that lead to reduced tobacco use and increased tobacco-free living throughout Maine.

Dr. Silwana Sidorczuk, a Family Physician at Northern Maine Medical Center (NMMC) and Rebecca Michaud, RN and Community Educator at NMMC, have teamed up to make a difference in these statistics for the people in the St. John Valley. By mid-October, the team will have presented an educational program, called Tar Wars, in all the middle schools of the St. John Valley. As part of the tobacco reduction initiative, teachers and parents have also been provided information about the program and the risks of tobacco use. The next step will involve active participation by students, facilitated by teachers in the classroom, to create posters depicting a positive message about the benefits of being tobacco-free. The posters will then be judged within the schools and at NMMC, with the support of the Daigle Oil Company. The public will be engaged in the judging of posters in an effort to broaden the scope of the tobacco awareness initiative. Ultimately, the top three posters will be judged at the state level at the Annual Maine AAFP conference in April of 2018.

To learn more about the risks of tobacco use and available programs, go to  HYPERLINK “”

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