Jeanette Lastrape is often called the queen of tobacco prevention.
Since 2000, the health education specialist has earned her reputation by informing residents in Houston and surrounding areas about living a smoke-free lifestyle.
“Tobacco prevention became my passion after I realized some of the deceitful tactics the tobacco industry uses to target children,” Lastrape says. “Some of my family members have died from tobacco-related diseases, and most of them started smoking young.”
Lastrape’s experience helps her spread the messages in Too Cool to Smoke, a 30-minute puppet show that educates children in kindergarten to fourth grade on the dangers of smoking. In March 2012, the program celebrated reaching 100,000 children since it was developed in 2004 by MD Anderson’s Public Education Office.
Based on curriculum from The Kids on the Block, Inc. — a national education program for children — the show is performed at schools, churches and other venues in and around Houston. Originally funded by Aileen Gordon, a patient diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002, the program is now underwritten by the Development Office’s Holiday Letter Program.
Puppets get the message across
A small group of rotating puppeteers operates the lead characters, Eric and Joanne, but if a puppeteer can’t perform, Lastrape is happy to fill in.
“I feel like my experience in tobacco prevention brings a personal perspective to the shows that I do,” she says.
Each show clarifies misconceptions about tobacco use, and every child is given a card to sign, promising not to smoke.
She says the intention of the promise card is to open a dialogue between parents and children on the dangers of smoking since 60% of smokers start before the age of 14.
To reinforce tobacco prevention messages, a Bingo game was developed for third- and fourth-graders based on the information presented in Too Cool to Smoke.
“We know the tobacco industry targets children at young ages, so we want them to know this information before they fall prey to advertising and peer pressure,” Lastrape says. “Children see smoking ads and people in their family who smoke. The sooner we can circumvent those messages in their environment, the better.”