School play aims to help parents stop smoking

School play aims to help parents stop smoking

February 1, 2002

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 5, and again on Thursday, February 7, students from two South Side elementary schools, with some assistance from the Music Theater Workshop and the University of Chicago Hospitals, will present an original musical production, "I'm Not Jokin' If You're Smokin'."

The play, designed to persuade students and their parents not to smoke, will be performed at James McCosh School, 6543 South Champlain Avenue.

I'm Not Jokin'

I'm Not Jokin' is the culmination of a two-year effort, supported by a grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The funds, part of the Illinois Tobacco-Free Communities Program, enabled pediatricians at the University of Chicago Hospitals to work together with Music Theater Workshop, a community-based not-for-profit theater group, to develop and test an innovative approach to smoking cessation.

In the first year of the two-year program, sixth- and seventh-grade students at North Kenwood-Oakland Charter School, on Chicago's South Side, wrote the play and songs--mostly rap songs--based on their own life stories. The play deals with the health effects of smoking, the influence of the media on smokers, and with personal issues such as peer pressure to smoke, dealing with parents who smoke, and a child's experience of the death of a grandparent from lung cancer.

If You're Smokin'

"We wanted to reach the children early enough to prevent them from starting to smoke," said program coordinator John Lantos, M.D., chief of general of pediatrics at the University of Chicago and a former MTW board member. "Then we hoped to use the children to reach their parents, which in turn could protect the children from second-hand smoke and make it easier for the kids to grow up without getting hooked."

You'll Be Coughin'

Although older children and volunteers from the Music Theater Workshop play most of the leading roles, each performance involves a chorus. And each chorus--one on Tuesday and a different one on Thursday--includes 150 first, second, and third graders.

"This was a blatant, pre-meditated effort to guarantee a large audience," explained Lantos. Parents who attend can enjoy a free dinner before the play and the chance to enroll in free smoking-cessation classes afterwards.

The classes, directed by Andrea King, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University, will be held at four South Side locations: at McCosh School; Carnegie School at1414 East 61st Place; the Parkway Center at 67th and Champlain; and the Friend Family Health Center at 55th and Cottage Grove.

You'll Be Chokin'

Despite the play's humorous approach, this is an important effort to prevent children from becoming addicted to tobacco. Most smokers begin before age 18 and few are later able to quit. About 28 percent of high school students now smoke. Anything that can reduce that percentage is worth the effort because, as the chorus explains: "I'm not lyin', see I'm tryin' to keep you all from dyin'."

Excerpt from "Rollin' in my Lexus":

Rollin' in my Lexus mornin' and night,
Got a smoke in my hand, now don't I look tight?
All the boys think I'm so fine,
Got a smoke in my hand, not a thought on my mind.

Rollin' in your Lexus mornin' and night,
Got a smoke in your hand, now that ain't right?
All the boys stay far away,
Don't want a girl whose lungs are gray.