COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) — Jamie Rodriguez uses props to drive the point home — a black lung, yellowed teeth and jars filled with the tar and phlegm that enter and leave a smoker's body.
These visuals work well when she's teaching a room full of elementary students about the dangers of tobacco use.
Rodriguez, who is a tobacco prevention coordinator with East Central District Health Department, recently visited with students at each of the after-school programs within Columbus Public Schools.
The Columbus Telegram reports (http://bit.ly/1jKAYft ) they made anti-smoking posters and were taught to "blow bubbles instead of smoke" as part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, an event that encourages smokers to quit for at least one day.
Rodriguez, whose mother died of lung cancer eight years ago at the age of 53, understands the importance of reaching youths at a young age to prevent them from joining the 1,200 Americans killed by tobacco-related illnesses each day.
"We focus on children as 90 percent of smokers smoke their first cigarette before the age of 18," she said, "so by doing events like this we're able to educate youth on the dangers of tobacco."
And her plan goes beyond plastic teeth, posters and tiny bottles of bubbles.
Rodriguez and the Tobacco Free Platte County Coalition also are pushing for a change that would affect adult smokers whose habits may influence children.
They designed a survey — available at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/L7SWHKN — to gauge whether residents would support policies that create smoke-free recreational areas in Platte County.
With the community's support, Rodriguez said the coalition wants to see all parks and recreational areas in Platte County — or at least those where children are frequently present — go smoke-free.
"Children often mimic adults and cigarettes can be very dangerous to young children, especially if they were to pick up a cigarette butt thrown out from an adult that's still lit and put it in their mouth," Rodriguez said.
Fremont, Hastings, Lincoln, Kearney and other Nebraska communities already have rules in place that ban tobacco use in most city parks.
However, some of the policies aren't actively enforced by the cities and serve only as a suggestion to park users.
The Columbus Board of Parks Commissioners decided in July 2012 not to pursue smoking bans at local parks.
Instead, the board said individual groups such as athletic associations and high schools can choose to prohibit tobacco use during events. But these policies would only be suggestions for spectators since the groups don't have the authority to prevent someone from lighting up on city-owned property.
The measure was considered at the request of the Columbus Youth Softball Association, which asked about prohibiting smoking at Bradshaw Park during association-sponsored events after receiving an increase in complaints regarding cigarette use there.
Information from: Columbus Telegram, http://www.columbustelegram.com