A few times a week, I found myself glued to a chair in Retorno’s visitors’ center, participating in yet another “addiction prevention” seminar. I justified my continual attendance at these lectures and workshops by telling myself it was the Hebrew — the language barrier must have caused me to miss some small but critical idea, some crucial turn of phrase that I’d need at some later point, so I needed to hear it one more time.

Honestly? I was digesting, relating, internalizing, wondering, processing, integrating. I had to assimilate all this new information and weave it into the tapestry of knowledge I’d acquired over the years. My psych degree gave me a lot of theoretical knowledge, but was of little practical use. My years as a teacher and then mother were the ongoing impetus for my continued education, acquired through classes, lectures, and lots and lots of reading.

For my first “prevention lecture,” I joined a group of 40 teachers from several schools within the same district. I was expecting something along the lines of the “Just Say No” campaign, made popular by Nancy Reagan in the 1980s. Or an egg frying in a pan (“This is your brain on drugs”).

Nothing doing. No signs, no slogans, no fear campaigns.

We sat in a large circle, which was my first clue that this was no standard classroom.

Reuven, whom I knew to be in his late 20s, stood and introduced himself and said, “Raise your hand if you smoke.”

A number of hands went up.

“Okay, all of you smokers. If you ever read the warning label on a package of cigarettes, keep your hand up.”

No hands went down.

“If you read the warning label before you started smoking, keep your hands up.”

Every hand stayed in the air.

“If you think the warning label on cigarettes will prevent one person from smoking, keep your hand up.”

Every hand went down.

I was flummoxed. It seemed, from this informal survey, that substance-abuse prevention is a lost cause, that understanding the dangers of something is not enough to prevent you from doing it.

An uncomfortable pressure settled between my eyes. I have a house full of teenagers, each with their own values, hobbies, interests, and circle of friends. As they — and I — mature, I have less and less control over what goes on in their lives. Of course, I’ve spoken to my kids about smoking. They know about black lungs, about the inability to climb a flight of stairs by age 30.

And yet I know Reuven is correct. I know that knowledge alone is not enough to help them stand up to peer pressure, or whatever other pressures make a kid turn to cigarettes.

Or to other things.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed,” Reuven continued, “that in most countries, these warning labels have gotten bigger and more graphic as time goes on. It’s as if the logic is, well, this medicine should cure this disease, but it’s not curing it, so, well, let’s just provide a bigger dose.”

I love irony, but I wasn’t finding this the least bit amusing. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 544 – Shavuos 2017 Special Edition)