Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

In the classroom -- Learning the dark lesson of smoking

Suzie Harrison

It gives you filthy breath. It makes your teeth yellow. It makes you

cough and affects your ability to breath. It’s expensive -- and it can

cost you your life.


These are some of the horrible lessons that Marshall Klapman’s

fifth-grade class at El Morro Elementary School learned about smoking

during a recent lab experiment.

The smoking project has been an effective teaching tool since being


implemented for fifth-graders at El Morro 15 years ago. The project is

part of science curriculum about lungs, their different parts and


Students learned that cigarettes cause serious health problems such as

emphysema, asthma and cancer.

Dr. James Selevan came to Klapman’s class to discuss the parts of the

lung and, as a medical expert, he answered the students’ questions.

After being taught about the functions of the lung, students built


models of the organ using two-liter, clear plastic soda bottles with two

white balloons inside. The students could see the inhalation and

exhalation by squeezing the bottle. A clear plastic tube went down to the

neck of the bottle to represent the cilia and the trachea. There were

also white cotton balls inside the balloons.

“We want to see the effect of smoking on the lungs and used cotton

inside the balloons. Because you obviously can’t see what’s going on

inside your lungs, so we assimilate,” Klapman said.


The experiment was conducted outside and the 26 students in Klapman’s

class wore surgical masks to protect themselves from the smoke. Parent

volunteers facilitated the project and the kids were not allowed to

handle anything flammable or touch the cigarettes.

The cigarettes were lit and placed in the model trachea. Students

watched as everything became darker and dirtier. The children began

noticing the effects right away and commented how black and nasty their

model was becoming after just a little bit of smoking. During the

hour-long experiment, the students’ models smoked about four cigarettes.

Klapman pointed out to the students after the lungs had smoked two

cigarettes the significant effects.

“That’s two cigarettes being smoked, imagine if the person smoked a

pack a day.”

“I think it’s beneficial for them to see what cigarettes do to your

lungs. Hopefully it will teach them a lesson not to smoke,” said Kristin

Kuhler, one of the parent volunteers.

Following the project, the students were to take home their models

and, with an adult, take out the cotton balls and examine how much damage

had been done.

“It’s great because it shows you how the trachea gets all brown and

black if they smoke, especially a pack a day. The experiment makes your

lungs black and you get cancer,” said Cindy Rameriz.

“I think it’s a great way for us to learn. If this is what happens

after only four cigarettes, imagine if you smoked a pack a day it’d be

really bad. I won’t smoke because I know what the damage it does to your

heart and lungs,” said Roy Herbert.

As the project came to a close, Klapman said he was pleased with what

the children saw and learned.

“I think they totally get the objection of the lesson and I think

they’ll remember this through school so when they see peers and family

members smoking, they won’t. It’s really powerful.”