Doctor’s orders: Don’t smoke

Kids learn how tobacco use can affect their health

Heather Ann White Caller-Times
Monday, December 25, 2006

FALFURRIAS – Even though about half the 130 Lasater School first-graders didn’t know what lung cancer was, they knew enough that they didn’t like the sound of it.

“Can cigarette smoking cause cancer? Can tobacco turn your lungs black? Can cigarette smoke make you sick?” asked physician assistant Brenda Parrish. “Is it OK for adults to smoke?”

The students soon would learn the answers as the school’s cafeteria turned into a theater.

Enter Tinku the ant, his friends and his family, who go on a journey and learn about the dangers of tobacco in the film “Ante Tobacco.” Tinku and his crew are faced with obstacles on their journey including a tobacco-pushing devil ant that tries to tempt the group to smoke. The ants turn down the tobacco and are rewarded by a fairy who grants the ants the power to carry items greater than their own weight.

The students sat captivated as they watched the movie, which comes with a colorful, 40-page book. The film is part of Dr. Salim Surani’s anti-tobacco campaign. Surani, who is board certified in internal, pulmonary and sleep medicine, began the campaign 1 1/2 years ago and has visited about 5,000 students in first through third grades in the Corpus Christi and surrounding school districts.

Surani and a team of about eight volunteers travel to the schools, talk to the children about tobacco use and show the film. The students also take quizzes before and after the movie to demonstrate what knowledge they’ve gained about tobacco, Surani said.

The doctor said he started the campaign because of his older patients who suffer from diseases caused by tobacco such as emphysema and lung cancer. By teaching the children about the harms of tobacco at a young age, he’s hoping they will never smoke and develop similar health issues, he said.

“I see a lot of folks dying,” Surani said. “Smoking is more addicting than heroin or marijuana. And now is the time to teach them. We’d never teach our kids as a teenager that stealing is bad, we teach them when they’re young. They’re like a sponge, and they need to know.”

Surani, who did not write the books or film, saw the books while researching for his campaign and received the copyright waiver from The CHEST Foundation, an international medical society and branch of the American College of Chest Physicians. Surani pays for the copies of the movies and books himself. His hard work earned him the CHEST Foundation Ambassadors Group 2006 Humanitarian Award – an award for volunteer work – for the campaign.

“The issue is not winning the award,” he said. “When you go with the kids, that’s the award. If I can have a few of these kids not smoke, that’s the biggest award. There’s no more satisfaction.”

Parrish, an ex-smoker, said nothing is more important than teaching students about the dangers of tobacco use. She already has begun to see the campaign change the children’s’ attitudes after working with Surani for two months.

“You can get statistics all day long. Kids are starting to smoke earlier and earlier,” she said. “But the children are beginning to know what tobacco is. They’re becoming more and more aware of it.”

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating youth about tobacco use, 900 million packs of cigarettes are consumed by kids each year. The organization’s research also shows that 21.6 percent of high school boys and 21.8 percent of high school girls are current smokers.

Seven-year-old Gabby Chavera knows firsthand that smoking is bad and can’t stand second-hand smoke.

“It burns my nose because I have asthma,” she said.

The first-grader from Lasater School said she liked the movie and was excited to take the book home.

Gabby, whose parents smoke, said she would always say no to tobacco and cigarettes.

“Cigarettes can make you sick,” she said, reciting what she learned from the film. “Don’t smoke cigarettes ’cause you’re lungs are going to be black.”

Contact Heather Ann White at 886-3794 or whiteh@


Program counters the cartoon threat

Anti-smoking campaign uses animated tool

Anthony Martinez Beven Caller-Times
Saturday, June 24, 2006

The message is colorful, fun and easy to understand: Tobacco use is addictive and can lead to serious health complications. Area health advocates are hoping those words will stick with local children throughout their teens and into adulthood.

Unveiled on Friday at the Christus Spohn Cancer Center, the Anti-Tobacco Targeting Children campaign centers on a DVD cartoon story line laced with anti-tobacco messages.

Dr. Salim Surani, a local lung specialist heading the campaign, said because cigarette companies in the past have used popular cartoon characters, such as Joe Camel, in their marketing strategies, it is necessary to curtail “cool” images of smoking and other tobacco use with positive cartoon images.

And while tobacco has been made popular through media campaigns, studies have shown that kids also learn about tobacco use from peers, family members and role models, such as celebrities, said Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli, creator of the anti-tobacco DVD and professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The campaign specifically targets area children in 1st through 3rd grades. Surani said the DVD has already been shown to grade schoolers in the Flour Bluff Independent School District and will soon be presented to Corpus Christi Independent School District students.

“Every day, 4,000 children start smoking,” Surani said. He added early intervention and behavioral may reduce the possibility of tobacco use later in life. “We want to get down to the level of the kids and try to educate.”

Debbie Wood, vice president of people and culture for Christus Spohn Health System, said this campaign will be a definite benefit to the community.

“I think the more folks that are aware of the dangers of these products, the less likely they are to try them at an early age,” Wood said.

Contact Anthony Martinez Beven at 886-3792

or bevena@