SPRING HILL — Trey Patterson moved closer to a water fountain. With trepidation, the sixth-grader slipped into his mouth a strip that had been infused with the taste of an ashtray.
"Horrible! Violating! Disgusting!" the 12-year-old exclaimed.
Classmate Sarah Kelly, 11, had a similar reaction.
"Worst taste in my life!" she said. "It was disgusting. I never want to do it again."
Trey and Sarah may not become smokers, and that was the point of the demonstration by Challenger K-8 Students Working Against Tobacco, wearing "Crush Your Butt" T-shirts.
The Hernando County Anti-Drug Coalition supplied the displays, games, demonstrations and taste strips. Coalition members Lisa Hammond, 52, project director, and Tresa Watson, 46, vice president and treasurer, were on hand helping with the event.
"We have a grant from the state," Watson said. "What we're trying to do is to promote: Don't start smoking."
Watson took a photo of each willing student who stopped by. Then she put it into a computer program that showed how he or she would look in the years to come, after smoking one pack of cigarettes a day.
There was another message about drinking alcohol.
Hammond put special glasses on students that simulated how it would look to walk while intoxicated. She guided each child along and asked if he or she could ride a bicycle with vision like that. "No," was the frequent answer.
Hammond also had remote-control cars the students could attempt to "drive" wearing the special glasses.
Elsewhere in the school mall area, sixth-grade health teacher Beth Reckner, 41, was overseeing other tables. One held models of smokers' mouths with gray tongues and stained teeth.
It also had a large, clear bottle with a doll and yellow water inside, simulating how amniotic fluid might look in a pregnant smoker.
Another table held a jar filled with a horrible looking olive green substance that looked like phlegm to show what a smoker with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease might cough up in two weeks.
There were pictures of a diseased tongue, tooth decay, tongue cancer and a brain after a stroke.
Students seemed to get the message.
Sixth-grader Josh Healion, 12, said he learned "how smokeless tobacco affects your gums and turns them black and can lead to cancer in your mouth and how it's more dangerous than smoking a cigarette."
"I learned that smoking is not worth it," said sixth-grader Noah Siem, 11. "I learned that drinking can cause your liver to totally dysfunction."
Hammond said the demonstration and materials are available to organizations interested in the program of the Hernando County Anti-Drug Coalition. She said they partner with the Hernando County Health Department, focusing on youth and prevention.
"Whoever wants us, we go," Hammond said.