Students at Middlesex Middle School learned the ingredients used to make cigarettes -- including chemicals commonly found in nail polish remover, gasoline and hair dye -- during Kick Butts Day Wednesday afternoon.
Members of Students Against Destructive Decision gathered in the school cafeteria to officially mark the national initiative to keep kids from smoking tobacco.
"We're trying to teach the young minds what is in a cigarette, so that the will understand what they are doing to their bodies if they smoke," Collene Heaney, SADD member, said. "We find that if kids have a relationship with someone who smokes then they are scared for them and want to talk abut the dangers of smoking with that person."
As part of Kick Butts Day SADD members display all the ingredients found in the cigarettes. Being able to show middle school students what they could potentially introduce into their bodies has a sobering effect, SADD member Caroline Feehan said.
"You always hear about nicotine but you don't always hear about the other things. We've seen kids who look at the ingredients and their mouths drop open and they are disgusted," she said.
That disgust for smoking was evident as Francisco Sucre, a seventh-grade student at Middlesex, looked at a poster detailing what cigarette smoke does to the human body.
"It looks disgusting," he said about the effects of cigarette smoking. "Then you think about so many of the people who do this and you wonder how they started."
SADD specifically targets the middle school because students are mature enough to understand the dangers of smoking and they are willing to listen.
"The impact of this program is great because they get to them at a great time," guidance counselor Marc Power said. You can never hear the message too early. High school kids are gods to the middle school students. They hang onto everything the high school students say to them."
Power said their respect for high school students and their message is what has resulted in fewer students smoking.
"Smoking doesn't seem to be something that many students do. Most of the kids have seen how bad it is for you," he said.
Students who took the opportunity to look at the many different ingredients found in cigarettes also learned about the other potential hazards of smoking from Fire Marshal Robert Buch.
"Smoking causes several fires each year. It's still one of the highest causes for fires," Buch said. "Sometimes you'll get a small fire like we had last week when there was a small brush fire on the side of the road due to a discarded cigarette. Other times you lose entire houses."
After listening to SADD members and Buch explain the hazards of smoking, one group of eighth-grade students were especially vocal about their thoughts regarding smoking.
"It's screwed up; I don't know why people do it," Dylan Griffin said.
Fellow classmate Sam Knowlton found it difficult to believe how much money people pay for cigarettes.
"The amount of money people spend a year on cigarettes is absurd," Knowlton said.
Harry Wyatt declared he would never smoke cigarettes.
"Smoking is dangerous and gross, and I will never do it," he said.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who read a proclamation to officially make March 21 a Kick Butts Day, said smoking was a particularly poignant subject for her as her mom was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.
"She smoked for 40 years and these students are learning what that can do to you," she said. "I would attribute the success of reducing the number of kids who smoke to the efforts of SADD, the Health Department and the schools because they do such a good job of educating kids."
Eighth-grader Marissa Baker said she has no interest in smoking and thinks the habit is not only disgusting, but also harmful to the people around the smokers.
"It's gross. A ton of people smoke and it's disgusting. I hate it when you have to walk by people who are smoking on the street," she said.
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