Idaho AFP's Tar Wars Continues Fight Against Tobacco

November 07, 2017 02:53 pm Chris Crawford

Tar Wars is alive and well among AAFP chapters, and the Idaho AFP's program is a terrific example.

Matthew Peters, M.D., currently a resident in the Cascades East Family Medicine Residency Program in Klamath Falls, Ore., presents the Tar Wars curriculum in his home state for the Idaho AFP's Tar Wars program.

The Tar Wars program, now in its third decade, provides tobacco-free education to fourth- and fifth-grade students. Since its inception in 1988, the program has reached well more than 10 million children around the world.

The Idaho AFP recently revamped its Tar Wars( presentation tools, and presenters and students seem to be impressed.

Peggy Drzayich, coordinator of the Idaho Tar Wars program, told AAFP News the group updated its resources with a new instructional video, PowerPoint presentation and student kit.

Idaho Tar Wars Offerings

The crown jewel of the Idaho AFP Tar Wars' new offerings is its instructional video for presenters.(  

Drzayich said community partners throughout Idaho who present Tar Wars -- including medical students, dental hygiene students and family medicine residents -- use the video for presentation ideas.

Story highlights
  • The Idaho AFP recently revamped its Tar Wars presentation tools, and presenters and students seem to be impressed.
  • The program's resources include a new instructional video, PowerPoint presentation and student kit.
  • The AAFP continues to support constituent chapters' Tar Wars efforts by updating presentation information and coordinator guides hosted on its website and assisting in chapter communications as needed.

"Each year brings new participants, and we felt this would be a good way to give them some training on what an actual presentation should and could look like," she said.

The video features both Neva Santos, C.A.E., executive director of the Idaho AFP, and Drzayich giving the Tar Wars presentation.

"I originally wanted something that could double as a training video and a means of presenting Tar Wars to rural areas where no presenter was available," Drzayich said. "However, we ultimately decided it would serve us best as an instructional video only, and in consideration of our presenters' time constraints, the hourlong presentation was cut back to 30 minutes."

"All in all, we are very happy with the end product and have had many positive comments as to its benefits."

The Idaho AFP also created an updated PowerPoint presentation( that includes, among other content, graphic slides addressing the damage tobacco does to your body, which Drzayich noted are well-received by the students.

"Also, the presenters appreciate the fact that they can rearrange or take out slides to accommodate their own presentation styles and meet the needs of the different classroom cultures," she added.

Finally, the new resources include student kits that offer a letter for parents( explaining the program and its purpose, a straw and a pencil.

"We feel this is important information to get in the parents' hands, thus widening the reach of the Tar Wars message," Drzayich said. "We also have added information on e-cigarettes and vaping on the back of the letter."

She said the pencil -- which sports the Tar Wars logo -- reminds students about the program's message, and the straw is intended to let kids experience a popular Tar Wars experiment that simulates breathing with lungs that smoke by breathing only through a straw.

During the past school year, the Idaho AFP delivered about 7,000 student kits; this year, that number is already about 6,000 kits, Drzayich said.

For the past several years, she said, the number of participating schools has remained close to 190, which is about half of the elementary schools in Idaho.

Drzayich said she has thoroughly enjoyed her position as the Idaho AFP's Tar Wars coordinator for the past 14 years and thinks having a dedicated coordinator for the program has helped stoke its success.

Delivering the Tar Wars Message

Judges evaluate the work of students participating in the Idaho AFP's Tar Wars Poster Contest at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise.

Idaho family physician Suzanne Allen, M.D., M.P.H., of Boise, has presented the Tar Wars program since she was a resident in the early 1990s; she's delivered the Idaho AFP's Tar Wars program since moving to Boise in 1999 to mostly fifth-graders, with some fourth- and sixth-graders sprinkled in.

"I really enjoy the interaction with the students," Allen said. "I'm amazed at how much more students know about tobacco now in 2017 than they did back in 1992. I think a lot of this has to do with all of the work that has been done with clean indoor air acts, etc."

Additionally, Allen said she thinks the Tar Wars presentation activities make all the difference in getting points across to the students.

For example: the aforementioned straw exercise. "This involves breathing through a straw with your nose plugged and then doing the same thing and running in place," she said. "That leaves a big impression on the students."

The Idaho AFP also still holds its own annual poster contest, with cash prizes for entries from first to twelfth place. All entrants receive a Tar Wars T-shirt and certificate.

"I always have a calendar with me so I can show the students posters from previous years," Allen said. "I think showing the previous years' posters to students makes them excited to think about doing a poster themselves."

Allen said one of her favorite things she's done as part of the Idaho AFP's Tar Wars program is to invite local legislators to participate in giving presentations.

"I think that really opens their eyes to how helpful the program can be," she said.

She also enjoys taking medical students and family medicine residents with her to present Tar Wars.

"That makes it fun for me, but hopefully, it also means they will want to do Tar Wars themselves in the future," Allen said.

Allen said the Idaho AFP's Tar Wars program continues to play an important role in balancing out the messaging from tobacco companies glamorizing tobacco use that bombards these students day in and day out.

"The tobacco companies are so clever at their marketing, I think it's really important that we continue Tar Wars and prevent people from starting to use tobacco products," she said.

AAFP's Tobacco Control Resources

The AAFP continues to support constituent chapters' Tar Wars efforts by updating presentation information and coordinator guides on its website and assisting in communication among the chapters as needed.

The Academy offers other tobacco control resources to support members' efforts, as well, including a tobacco and nicotine cessation toolkit and a position paper on preventing and treating nicotine dependence and tobacco use.

If you'd like to share Tar Wars success stories from your state or want to update your program coordinator information, please email AAFP Tar Wars. 

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