HS Students Present Dangers of Tobacco and Nicotine Use

Using a variety of different hands-on activities and demonstrations, members of the Thornapple Kellogg High School Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) tried to make an impression on the fourth graders about the dangerous effects tobacco and nicotine from smoking or vaping have on a body and to dissuade students from ever trying these harmful products.

“I don’t use tobacco or nicotine because I’m a senior and I want to keep my brain in good shape for when I go to college next year,” said Charlotte Nelson.

Others said they are athletes who want to keep their bodies healthy so they can continue to compete, or singers or band members who want to have good lungs so they can keep making music.

Students hear about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine use from advertisements, parents, and other adults. Recently, they heard it from some of their older TK High School peers hoping their discussions with fourth graders will help students choose healthy lifestyles.

Each year TATU members are trained through the Barry County Substance Abuse Prevention Services on lesson plans and presentation skills to help younger students understand the dangers of tobacco and nicotine use.

The demonstrations, like the pig lung, grab attention, are interactive and leave an impression. Hearing from older students also resonates with younger students. “These are kids the younger kids watch playing basketball or volleyball. They see these kids at the fair and in different places. It’s not the same as an adult talking to them. These are students too,” said Liz Lenz, Coordinator of the Barry County Substance Abuse Task Force.

Lenz said the program started in 2001 with the first classroom presentation likely taking place in 2002. “It’s become a legacy program now. We do it every year and it’s worth it if we help even just one student avoid tobacco or nicotine use.”

High school students also benefit from teaching these valuable lessons. “Teaching these high school kids to give these presentations empowers them to be leaders and examples for others. It’s empowering them to be positive role models,” said Lenz.

Students were reminded that it’s best to never start smoking or vaping, reminding students that nicotine can become addictive and hard to quit once started. They also showed students how the body begins to heal itself once nicotine and tobacco are eliminated.


They discussed the many harmful types of chemicals that can be found in cigarettes, vapes or both, filling a large cardboard cigarette and vaping device with the harmful ingredients.

Page students also did a little math work to understand the cost of smoking or vaping. They multiplied the cost of one pack of cigarettes a day to what it would cost for a full week, month and year and realized they would save a lot of money without a cigarette habit.


One demonstration used straws of varied sizes and invited students to race to drink up a glass of water. They realized it’s easier and faster to drink through a wider straw than one with a small opening. It's a representation of the diminishing capacity of the lungs over time.

In another demonstration, one member of each team donned a bright pink t-shirt. Felt lungs were added to the shirt to show what healthy lungs look like and what happens to them with the effects of tobacco use. Other team members explained that the lungs changed from pink to grayish black, the tiny air sacs within the lungs called alveoli turned black and even his nose hairs (pipe cleaners dangling from sunglasses) shriveled up from the tobacco effects. They also demonstrated how the body begins to heal itself once tobacco use is stopped.


TATU is a program of Barry County Substance Use Prevention Services/BCCMHA. It is a program that has been helping educate younger students since 2001. Members of the TKHS TATU team members giving demonstrations at Page this year were Holly Carpenter, Jessie Drenten, Hailey Dudik, Charlotte Nelson, Elise DeBoer, Devon Barnhill, Noah Donker, Jenna Robinett, Hayden Chatman, Nathan Koester, Kylee Hoebeke, Lilly McKeown, Brooklyn Harmen, Kenna Hoebeke, Jacob Draaisma, and Aidan Dudik.