Lung Cancer Hero Implements ‘Tar Wars’ School Initiative Program

Lung Cancer Heroes®, CURE® Lung Cancer Heroes® 2021 Essay Book, Volume 2,

Ellen Petree worked with local health care leaders and community nurses to help reduce the number of children who went on to use tobacco, lowering their risk for lung cancer.

Educators, nurses and community members can work together to accomplish great things in lung cancer prevention. Ellen Petree, the Barrow County School System and local health care leaders identified a serious health concern for the residents of Barrow County, Georgia, in 2018.

Based on data revealed in a regional community needs assessment conducted by Truven Health Analytics, public health indicators demonstrated that lung cancer death rates, as well as lung cancer incidence rates, were significant health concerns in Barrow County. Furthermore, the incidence and death rates of lung cancer were occurring at higher rates per 100,000 people than the state and national benchmarks. Knowing that tobacco use typically begins in middle- and high-school-age youth, Ellen, the Barrow County School System and local health care leaders searched and reviewed evidence-based tobacco-use prevention programs to implement in elementary schools.

Tar Wars, the American Academy of Family Physicians’ tobacco-use prevention program, was selected as the intervention. The program was implemented by Ellen Petree, along with community nurses and local health care leaders, to reduce the number of future youth tobacco users in Barrow County. With Ellen’s leadership and guidance, the Barrow County School System, teachers, school nurses and more than 2,000 fourth- and fifth-grade students successfully participated in Tar Wars for each of the past three years, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, Ellen coordinated the presentation of the evidence-based initiative program, Tar Wars, by local nurses and school nurses in the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms of each of the nine Barrow County elementary schools. Pre- and post-tests were administered to assess learning gains and to refine future presentations.

Concerned about losing momentum with the students during the pandemic, Ellen organized a virtual delivery of the Tar Wars program with local oncology nurses and worked to have the pre- and post-tests administered online.

To pique interest, increase motivation and fuel participation of the fourth- and fifth-grade students, Ellen has also coordinated a poster contest each year to showcase the students’ learning after the Tar Wars presentations. Winning posters were selected through a Facebook public vote, and students were awarded cash prizes.

Unfortunately, personal habits that lead to the development of lung cancer start at an early age. To spare a future generation the burden and devastation of lung cancer, consistent and early tobacco-use prevention interventions are needed in our communities. Ellen Petree and the Barrow County School System are inspired to improve the long-term health of the community in which they live and work by focusing on the youth today.

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