Tar Wars Contest Winners Take Tobacco-free Message to Capitol Hill

Participating in AAFP Program is 'Inspiring,' Says FP

July 20, 2011 03:50 pm David Mitchell Washington –

When asked about her best subjects in school, Alana McGuinness quickly responds that math and science are her forte. But the next time she's asked, the 10-year-old from Bristol, R.I., might want to mention art, as well.

McGuinness was named the winner of the 2011 Tar Wars(www.tarwars.org) national poster contest July 12 during the annual Tar Wars National Conference, which, each summer, represents the culmination of the AAFP's school-based tobacco-free education program.

"She's good at everything she does," Patty McGuinness said of her daughter, who skipped a grade and will start sixth grade in the fall. "She's a high achiever."

Family physicians and other health care professionals present Tar Wars -- AAFP's tobacco-free education program -- every year to fourth- and fifth-graders. More than 8 million children have seen the presentations since the program's inception in 1988.

In an interview with AAFP News Now, Saria Carter Saccocio, M.D., of Danville, Va., a member of the AAFP Tobacco Cessation Advisory Committee, spelled out precisely why she's involved with the Tar Wars program and why she encourages other FPs to get involved, too.

Story Highlights

  • Alana McGuinness, of Bristol, R.I., was named the winner of the 2011 Tar Wars national poster contest.
  • Blaire McCarthy, of St. Petersburg, Fla., was named the winner of the program's first national video contest.
  • Children spread the program's tobacco-free message by touring Capitol Hill and meeting with their elected officials.

"The reason I do it is because it's inspiring," she said. "It reminds me of why I'm a family physician and that what we do every day, and the effect we have on children, is greater than we thought."

After physicians present the Tar Wars curriculum in school classrooms, students are encouraged to create posters conveying the positive aspects of being tobacco-free. McGuinness couldn't think of one good thing to say -- or draw -- about tobacco when she sat down to work on her poster, so she drew a picture of herself standing in front of a mirror.

"When the doctor came into our class and told us it's wrong to smoke, he also said we had a choice," said McGuinness. "So it was about reflecting a positive image."

In fact, "Reflect a positive image, live tobacco free," was the tagline on McGuinness' poster. Evidently, that message resonated with the contest judges, who awarded McGuinness first prize and $2,000 to use toward a family vacation.

"Our first thought was Disney," Patty McGuinness said of possible getaway destinations. "That's our second home. She's well-traveled, from coast to coast."

2011 Video Contest Winner

Blaire McCarthy, an 11-year-old from St. Petersburg, Fla., also took home a big prize, a $500 gift certificate, after being selected as the first winner of the Tar Wars national video contest. Her school, St. Paul Catholic School, also received $500.

"I'm going to buy myself a nice camera because I'd like to be a photographer when I'm older," said McCarthy, who will start sixth grade in the fall.

McCarthy's winning video posed the question: "Are you a tar performer or a top performer?" Using video of her brother biking and sailing, McCarthy showed that athletic endeavors are enhanced if a person is tobacco-free.

"This went from a little extra credit project at school to something much bigger," said Sally McCarthy, Blaire's mother. "She got a shot of confidence from standing up in front of a group of people and winning that award. I've seen a new side of her in the last 24 hours. She seems more mature, she wants to learn more, and she wants to go visit the museums and the Capitol."

Thirty of 38 state poster contest winners(www.tarwars.org) attended the July 12 conference. Many of the children visited Capitol Hill July 13 and met with their elected officials, presenting them with copies of their posters and information about the program. McGuinness, for example, met with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

From the 2011 Tar Wars Conference

"This is an exciting opportunity for her to meet with the senator and take a leadership role in advocating for Tar Wars," Patty McGuinness said. "It's a good transition for her going into junior high."

McCarthy said she also had a good experience.

"I had a lot of fun and learned a lot," she said.

McCarthy wasn't the only winner representing St. Paul Catholic School at the conference. Rachel Whitlach, Florida's state poster winner, placed fifth in the national poster contest. The following students also placed in the top 10:

  • Second place: Brooklyn Driver, of Lafayette, Tenn.;
  • Third place: Hady Hernandez, of Houston;
  • Fourth place: Hayden Simmons, of Ranburne, Ala.;
  • Sixth place: Madelyn Noyes, of Springfield, Ill.;
  • Seventh place: Rachel Colligan, of Parkville, Mo.;
  • Eighth place: Meghan Johnson, of Westfield, N.J.;
  • Ninth place: Kelli Taylor, of Ovett, Miss.; and
  • 10th place: Shayla French, of Plymouth, Mich.

In addition to Carter Saccocio, family physicians Richard Feldman, M.D., of Indianapolis, a member of the AAFP's Commission on Health of the Public and Science and chair of the Tar Wars program advisers, and Jane Weida, M.D., of West Reading, Pa., the AAFP Foundation's treasurer and a member of its board of trustees, were among speakers at the conference.

Tar Wars is supported, in part, by the AAFP Foundation(www.aafpfoundation.org).