Miss Mississippi leads war on tobacco

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, March 13, 2011

A war is brewing in Lincoln County and Miss Mississippi SarahBeth James took charge at Brookhaven Elementary School Fridaymorning.

The pageant queen graced the BES auditorium stage with crown,sash and a whole lot of knowledge about the harmful effects oftobacco as a representative of Tar Wars – the tobacco-freeeducation program from the American Academy of FamilyPhysicians.

“This was just a valuable lesson for the students to get fromsomeone they look up to,” said BES Principal Delores Gearing.

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The program was broken down into multiple sections. Studentslearned about the dangers of tobacco, why some people choose tosmoke, the various forms of tobacco products and how hazardoussecondhand smoke can be.

“(The program) is extremely effective,” said James. “The way Ican tell that is by the students’ response and theirquestions.”

James informed the third- and fourth-grade students of severalfacts, including that 4,000 chemicals exist in secondhand smoke, 15billion cigarettes are smoked around the world every day, 5 millionpeople die each year from using tobacco and China makes the mostcigarettes.

“Be tobacco free, that’s my message,” said James. “It’s veryimportant, no matter how old you are.”

Miss Mississippi did more than cram facts into the minds ofelementary students. James invited the young scholars to take partin the program.

She quizzed and asked the students several questions throughoutthe event and received strong participation.

Some students were invited on stage to learn about the dangersof smoking. During the exercise, the participants were asked to runin place for 30 seconds while holding their nose and breathingthrough a straw. The experiment was intended to show the childrenhow physical activity can be affected by smoking.

“That was only 30 seconds of running in place,” James told thestudents. “Imagine how hard it would be if you had to play atrecess for 30 minutes.”

In addition to facts and participation, James gave the audiencesome advice. She explained to the students that they could feelpressure to smoke and that all they had to do was say “no.”

“Because everybody else is doing it is not a good reason (tosmoke),” said James.

James has been spreading the anti-tobacco messages through thestate. By her trip’s end, she will have taken Tar Wars to 20elementary schools across Mississippi.

“They might not remember all the numbers, but I hope they’ll getthe overall message of being tobacco free and saying ‘no,'” saidJames.

In addition to learning about smoking and a poster contest forfourth-graders, in which the winner goes to Washington, D.C.,students even had a chance to ask James about the Miss MississippiPageant.

James informed them of her eight-month reign as MissMississippi, her crown and how the competition works.

“They’re not real diamonds, but it’s real silver,” said Jameswhen asked about her sparkling headgear.

The morning even became emotional for one student who wasfearful of missing her chance to converse with the pageantwinner.

“I wanted to ask a question really bad,” said Ashlynn Hamilton,behind teary eyes.

Hamilton not only asked her question, about eligibilityrequirements for Miss Mississippi Pageant participation, but alsowas able to pose for a picture with James.