Today's young people are more aware of the health risks of smoking than any other previous generation, yet 6.4 million of them are expected to die from smoking-related diseases, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows that nearly all first-time tobacco use occurs before high school graduation, which suggests that, if young people can get past this stage in their lives and remain tobacco-free, they are likely to never start smoking.
Young dance students are particularly susceptible to the appeals of smoking. Many dancers smoke in the mistaken belief that it will keep their weight down. Some believe their nicotine fix helps calm pre-performance nerves, and then there is the "cool" aspect of smoking to contend with. "Smoking has been a part of the dance world for such a long time," says Professor Karen Clippinger from California State University's Dance Department. “The desire to emulate successful dancers who smoke and be part of the ‘in group’ is a contributing factor.” How then can dance educators help to steer their students away from experimenting with smoking?
• Recognize students who smoke by looking for those with a long-term cough or a constant need to clear their throat, or those who get tired most quickly in class. Let them know that you’re on to them. Geoffrey Doig-Marx, associate professor of dance at Montclair State University stands behind smokers in warm-up and mentions that he can smell it. “I would never draw attention to them or ridicule them,” he says. “Open and honest conversation is best. If you are ever concerned about a student smoking, always pull them aside to talk to them.”
• Encourage students to think long term. The unhealthy “satisfaction” that accompanies a cigarette lasts only minutes, while the real damage being done to their body will hit them much later in life. “Smoking is more than a bad habit. It’s a chronic addiction,” says Michael C. Fiore, MD, founder of the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention. “For most people, it takes more than just willpower to quit.” Suggest that students try nicotine replacement therapies such as gum, lozenges or patches. Other helpful resources include counseling, hypnotherapy and meditation.
• Make it tough for smokers to get their fix during class breaks by designating a large area around your studio that has a smoke-free policy. Students will have to go further to light up between breaks. It may not stop them from smoking, but it will help decrease it. It will also reduce the opportunity for smokers to influence other students to dabble with cigarettes.
• Remember that you are a role model for your students and so, if you smoke, it’s essential that you disguise this from them. Better yet, try leading by example and quit smoking yourself. You can use your own experiences of quitting, even if you fail a few times first, to help your students succeed.
Rachel Holland is a freelance dance writer.