Tobacco prevention programs invest in future good health
The Health and Wellness Trust Fund has provided funding for the Watauga High Against Tobacco Club. This youth organization has promoted tobacco free policies in the schools, churches, restaurants, parks and government buildings. The teens have worked to make sure that policies, once put in place, are observed and that compliance continues.
The teens have educated their peers about the dangers of tobacco use through demonstrations, using animal lungs, models of diseased mouths and creative activities.
Watauga High School has seen a marked and significant drop in tobacco use among students as a result of the teens' actions.
The funding for teen tobacco use prevention has benefited Watauga County in other ways. It has provided education for teachers, nurses and counselors, to better prepare them to speak with students about tobacco use and cessation. It has provided tobacco prevention education for seventh-graders when they study the human body and for sixth-graders when they study asthma. It has connected the work that middle schoolers do to understand bias and persuasion in advertising with the ads that the tobacco companies use to influence them.
This program has enabled teens to work alongside Alcohol Law Enforcement to educate merchants in Watauga County about tobacco sales laws. This ensures that retail clerks check the IDs of all tobacco buyers who may be underage. Keeping tobacco out of the hands of youth is a significant part of preventing teen tobacco use and addiction.
Other states that have cut funding to teen tobacco prevention programs have seen the number of smokers go up. North Carolina has 53,000 fewer teen smokers than it did before the Health and Wellness Trust Fund was established. Removing funding now means an increase in death, disease and health costs down the road. "Saving" money on prevention is a short-sighted approach that will hurt our most vulnerable population.
I want to encourage the public to speak to their representatives in the state House and Senate about the importance of continuing the work of teen tobacco prevention. Our youth are worth it.
Teen tobacco use prevention coordinator