Respiratory therapy: Teaching middle school students to say 'no' to tobacco

According to a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both Tennessee adults and youth are above the national average for using smoking tobacco. The latest numbers in Tennessee from “The Toll of Tobacco” are as follows. 


  • 20.9% of high school students smoke.
  • 8,100 kids (under 18) become new daily smokers each year.
  • 488,000 kids are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.
  • 16.5 million packs of cigarettes are bought or smoked by kids each year.
  • 132,000 of the kids under 18, who are alive right now, will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. 
  •  In some parts of Tennessee, 20% of boys and 2% of girls use smokeless tobacco

Smoking and smokeless tobacco use almost always are initiated and established during adolescence, according to the CDC. Of the 4 recommendations by the CDC for starting a prevention program in schools, 2 include involving the community and professional sources. In addition, the CDC recommends more intensive education at the junior high or middle school level.

Over the last few months, the respiratory department at the University of Tennessee Medical Center has reached out to the middle schools in the area to help with educating its youth on the dangers of smoking and smokeless tobacco use. Through interactive activities and audio visuals, respiratory therapists spoke to more than 1,200 kids in Morgan, Loudon, Roane and Monroe counties combined. The word already has traveled to other schools, and UT Medical Center already is getting requests for 2011. The therapists involved include Maysoun Geizer, Justin Hickman, Eric Seaton, Karen Shuflat, Daniel Church, Mary Shortridge and Scott Elder.

Help to Quit Smoking

Freedom From Smoking classes  
Lifestyle changes 
Making the decision to quit tobacco  
Nicotine addiction & withdrawal 
Secondhand smoke 
Smoking Hazards 
Smoking quit tips   
Trouble quitting smoking

In most cases, the respiratory therapists spoke to every class 5-12, which involved 6-7 one-hour presentations a day and two days in a row. This experience for the therapists was amazing and sad at the same time. One of the priorities was to engage the kids often, get them to share what was on their minds and concerns that they had. When asked to raise their hand if they smoked or new of someone in their family that did, at least 80% of them raised their hand. One 5th grader said that her grandmother had died the week prior from smoking and asked if there was anything the medical center could do to help her mother and father quit smoking.

The kids were led into conversations about why they thought their fellow students smoked or use smokeless tobacco. Their questions were wise, and it was clear they needed this information being shared with them. One of the goals of these presentations was to reach at least one child. Through the hard work, knowledge and skills of UT Medical Center respiratory therapists many students were reached and ready to pass along the message.

Respiratory therapy at UT Medical Center has long been involved with educating the community on many respiratory-related issues. Through health fairs and events such as World COPD Day and The American Lung Association Lung Walk, their commitment to the community is strong. Recently, with the help of 5 respiratory therapists, more than 100 free pulmonary screenings were provided to the public.

Learn more about respiratory therapy at UT Medical Center.