Smoking Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about smoking. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Smoking. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Many children have seen people smoke, either on on the street or in their circle of family. Help children understand the many health risks associated with smoking and empower them with information that will help them make informed decisions about their health and habits as they grow older. This movie will explore smoking and its negative effects on health, including diseases such as lung cancer and emphysema. It will also explain what children can do if they are offered cigarettes and how they can help the smokers in their lives to quit.

Remind children that cigarettes contain tobacco, which is a plant. Tobacco has nicotine, which is a chemical that can make people feel a little tingly or hyper for a short time. Review with children that nicotine is addictive, which means that when people use it more, their bodies and minds need more just to feel O.K. In addition, most cigarettes also contain other chemicals, including formaldehyde (which is used to preserve dead bodies), lead and cyanide (which are poisonous), carbon monoxide (which comes out of the exhaust pipes in cars), hydrazine (which is in jet fuel), acetone (which is in nail polish remover), ammonia (which is in harsh household cleaners), and tar (the same product used to pave roads).

When someone smokes, he or she lights the tobacco and all the chemicals so they burn. She or he breathes in the smoke so it goes through the airways and into the lungs. The nicotine in the smoke gets passed into the blood. Explain to children that there are tiny hairs along the airways called cilia. Their job is to sweep away germs and harmful particles in the air, like the ones in smoke, so they do not get into the lungs. Smoking can damage and paralyze the cilia. Tar in cigarettes actually coats cilia and lungs.

Over time, damage to the lungs and airways can cause breathing problems and serious diseases such as cancer or emphysema. Emphysema is a disease that results from damage to the lungs by irritants and pollutants, like the ones in smoke, that makes breathing difficult and uncomfortable. Lung cancer is marked by a rapid and uncontrolled growth of cells inside the lungs, which can spread to other parts of the body and often kills its victims. Smoking affects how blood flows through blood vessels and causes elevated blood pressure and circulation problems. In some people this dramatically increases risk of heart attacks and strokes. In addition, smoking can stain teeth, cause cavities, and increase risks for certain mouth cancers and gum diseases. According to the American Cancer Society, smoking is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the United States, and about 8.6 million people suffer from smoking-related diseases, such as lung and heart disease.

Some children may have heard of smokeless tobacco, such as dip or chaw. Smokeless tobacco is not smoked, but is sucked or chewed. Tobacco is placed between the cheek and gums or between the lips and gums and nicotine enters the blood through the tissues of the mouth. Since swallowing tobacco can be poisonous, people end up spitting a lot. Some children and adults may think that smokeless tobacco is not as harmful as smoking, but it is just as unhealthy and can cause cancer of the mouth and throat.

It is estimated that about 3,900 kids between the ages 12 and 17 start smoking everyday. Why do people start smoking if it is so unhealthy and dangerous? Some kids try smoking or smokeless tobacco because they want to feel cool or grown-up, or they just want to see what it’s like. Clarify to children that the first time most people smoke, they usually cough and choke because their lungs are filling up with smoke and their bodies are telling them that the smoke is harmful. They might feel sick to the stomach and some people even throw up. Remind everyone that smoking is not something cool or fun. It is a dangerous and even disgusting activity.

Remind children that smoking is illegal for kids. If they see a kid smoking at school, they should tell a teacher or an aide. If someone asks if they want to smoke, they can say no thanks. They do not even need to give an explanation or a reason because nearly everyone knows that cigarettes are harmful to health. Brainstorm other ways to decline the offer of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco.

Review with children that secondhand smoke is tobacco smoke in the air that is breathed in by people who are not smoking. Secondhand smoke can bother non-smokers and cause them health problems, which is why many places like restaurants and hospitals do not allow smoking indoors. Children should be aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke and stay clear when others around them are smoking.

Most people who smoke know it’s unhealthy, but they are physically and psychologically addicted so it is hard to quit. If children know smokers, they can gently remind them why smoking is harmful. Encourage them to quit and give them support and positive feedback. Nicotine is addictive and quitting smoking can be very hard, but it can be done. Help children understand that since smoking can be harmful and addictive, they are better off just avoiding it in the first place.

Explain to children that they are in charge of their own health. Because tobacco is so addictive and quitting is so hard to do, the best idea is not to start in the first place. Give them the information and facts they need to make decisions about their bodies. Help them make good choices that will affect their whole lives.