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By Jimmie Earls
Sun Staff Writer
Members of the Washington County Heartland Youth Coalition were out kicking butts March 26 - kicking cigarette butts, that is. It was all part of the group’s annual Kick Butts Day designed to spread word around the community about the dangers of smoking.
“Washington County has traditionally been a big tobacco producer,” said Rod Mattingly, community health educator for the Washington County Health Department. “We have a problem here and we have an opportunity to do something about it, which is what we’re doing here today. We have a lot of youth participation, and this is a national celebration that brings awareness to the problem of youth smoking.”
Several youths from the coalition handed out information to passersby, hoping to educate the public about smoking. They also had materials for other target problems like alcohol and drug abuse.
Mattingly said statistics indicate that juvenile smoking is on the increase in recent years.
“Sadly, juvenile smoking right now is back on the increase just a little after about a 10 year decline,” he added. “In the past year and a half, we saw just a slight increase and we’re attributing that to lessening funds for educating youths. For a while, we had national campaigns on radio, television and print talking about different things and we think with that absence, teens rates have risen, here in Washington County specifically, I think we do have a little bit higher than the state average on teen smoking.”
While the students were out reaching current smokers, they also focused on educating fellow students before they start smoking.
“I know when I was younger, I paid a lot more attention to my peers than my parents or my teachers,” Mattingly said. “The N.O.T. program, Not On Tobacco, specifically uses peer-teachers to do that, and I think it is much more effective than coming from an adult.”
Another problem in the county is the use of smokeless tobacco among those under 18 years of age. Some may have the impression that harm is only caused by smoking tobacco, but chewing tobacco or dip presents a laundry list of problems all their own.
“It all starts with what the young people see their older role models do,” said Mattingly. “Spit tobacco is just as dangerous as smoking. Some people think it isn’t. It doesn’t harm the people around you like smoking does, but for the user, it’s just as dangerous or maybe more so dangerous.”
Although Kick Butts Day is just a one-day event, it’s all part of the Heartland Youth Coalition’s year-long program of education the public on several health and social issues. For more information, call the Washington County Heartland Youth Coalition at (859) 336-5130. To find out how to kick the smoking habit, call the Washington County Health Department at (859) 336-3989.