This is dedicated to Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby:
After 14 years of teaching drug education, I’m tempted to think I’ve heard it all. I’m used to getting questions from out of left field, but I always attempt to answer my student’s questions honestly, scientifically and without laughing. I NEVER want to make them feel bad for asking. My class is a safe haven for 4th – 6th graders to ask drug questions, and it is my job is to simplify a complex subject by teaching a class called “Myths Around The World,” which is the history of drugs played in a geographic game. Our goal is to dispel myths, discuss slang vs. scientific terminology, and talk about how many of the drugs of abuse began as medicines. It’s a fun way to learn the beginning levels of drug prevention education and jumpstart this life-long discussion. The history of drugs is naturally funny without me or my students adding anything extra. After all, hundreds of years ago, they actually thought tobacco could cure lung cancer!
The usual questions come up in every class: “my uncle smokes, how do I make him stop?” “What do drugs taste like?” “Why do people do drugs?” These are simple, honest and expected questions.
There is one question, though, since I hear it so frequently and because it points out the kind of hilarious confusion drug education can inspire, that I feel I must address once and for all –
I want to officially say that there is NO TOBACCO IN TABASCO.
Honestly, this makes me smile every time I hear it. It is a simple case of misunderstanding the language, and it is my job to clear up the confusion. After I get the question, the class comes to a complete halt. I carefully take a few minutes reiterating my answer in several ways just to be clear.
Tabasco is a hot sauce. Tobacco is a plant that cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff are made from. Nicotine is the stimulant drug in tobacco. There is no nicotine in Tabasco. In my class, I use the example, “My husband loves Tabasco hot sauce on his tacos, but as a former tobacco smoker, he is very careful to never use tobacco products.” I promise you that there is not now, nor has there ever been, tobacco products, leaves, ingredients or additives in Tabasco. Some kids giggle, but after I answer the question I always get the same exuberant sigh of relief, and some kid always shouts out, “I love Tabasco!!! I’m so relieved I can still use it.”
Being a traveling drug educator has the potential to be a very depressing, but my husband and I have found a way to make this job fun. We never expected questions that are so innocent and naturally funny. I couldn’t write funnier questions than some that I get repeatedly from my students. The number one cutest question I get is, “How high do people float when they get high?” The number one award for literal thinkers is, “When a person barfs their brains out, how do the brains come out of their head?” And for those readers wondering what is the number one most common question I get? The winner is, “Which one is worse, pot or weed?”
Most adults remember drug education as gloom and doom coupled with scare tactics (that is if they had any drug education at all.) But in my class, scattered among the myriad questions about drug abuse, are the questions that bring a smile to my face. It’s these questions that remind me that kids are still innocent and that it is my responsibility to guide them, because I may be the first person to ever talk to them about this subject. How I choose my words can make an impact for the rest of their life, and at the very least I will have made this small difference – they’ll never be scared of Tabasco again.