Grant to Help FirstHealth Expand Tobacco-Use Prevention Program
FirstHealth Community Health Services has received a three-year, $300,000 grant from the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund (HWTF) to continue and expand a regional effort to reduce tobacco use among young people and to eliminate their exposure to secondhand smoke.
Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 440,000 Americans each year. It is also the leading cause of preventable death and disability in North Carolina.
Despite the known health risks, thousands of young North Carolinians take up tobacco use each year. According to North Carolina's 2005 Youth Tobacco Survey, the vast majority (82 percent) of N.C. students who have ever smoked tried their first cigarette before the age of 15.
To reach teens with tobacco prevention messages while they are young, FirstHealth of the Carolinas and its school and community partners will implement educational and policy-oriented programs in Moore, Hoke, Montgomery and Richmond counties.
FirstHealth will use a portion of the new grant to develop a Smoke-Free Sandhills network that will bring together schools, community groups and religious organizations to advocate for policies that protect young people from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.
FirstHealth received a similar HWTF grant in 2003.
"Although the overall goals of the new grant are the same, there will be greater emphasis on eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke and building the capacity to advocate for tobacco-free environments," says Lynn Antil, a health educator with FirstHealth Community Health Services. Antil coordinates activities that the grant supports. "In the first three years, we were successful in training a large number of young people to spread the word about the harms of tobacco use in their schools and community.
"We also have seen significant policy changes, with school systems in three of our four target counties adopting a tobacco-free-schools policy. The fourth school system, in Hoke County, is in the process of considering a policy change."
Recent studies have shown that high schools in districts that have had the 100 percent tobacco-free school policy in effect for at least four years report 32 percent fewer tobacco-users compared to schools without the policy. Two-thirds of North Carolina's 115 school districts are now completely tobacco-free.
The four-county tobacco-use-prevention initiative that FirstHealth coordinates depends heavily on student volunteers called Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) and Tobacco.Reality.Unfiltered (TRU) advocates.
These young people are trained to educate their peers and elementary school students about the harmful realities of tobacco use and how to stand up to peer pressure to use tobacco. They also advocate in their schools and communities for policies against smoking and other forms of tobacco use.
The work of these TATU and TRU advocates is making a difference. Since HWTF began funding prevention efforts in 2003, the rate of decline in high school smoking has nearly tripled.
Based on the 2005 Youth Tobacco Survey, current cigarette smoking among high school students dropped from 27.3 percent in 2003 to 20.3 percent in 2005. Current cigarette smoking among middle school students decreased from 9.3 percent in 2003 to 5.8 percent in 2005.
The data translates into 27,000 fewer teen smokers in North Carolina since 2003.
"With the support of HWTF and the Smoke-Free Sandhills network, FirstHealth will continue its commitment to reduce teen tobacco-use rates," Antil says.
To join the Smoke-Free Sandhills network or to obtain more information about teen tobacco use programs, contact FirstHealth of the Carolinas Community Health Services at (877) 342-2255. For more information about the HWTF, visit www.HealthWellNC.com.
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