Smoke-free initiative to hit Vincent, Columbiana

Published 6:51 pm Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Shelby County Drug-free Coalition is working to get youth across Shelby County to cut down on tobacco use. The coalition’s next stop: Vincent and Columbiana.

The coalition, which has spent the past two years working in Chelsea and Alabaster, chose to go to Vincent and Columbiana because of the results of Shelby County school drug, alcohol and tobacco surveys, said program administrator Carol Williams.

“We saw that in Columbiana and Vincent, there was a higher percentage of youth tobacco use than in many of the other cities in Shelby County,” Williams said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 24 percent of Alabama students in grades 9-12 were smokers in 2006.

The youth tobacco prevention program is funded by a $28,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The Drug-free Coalition works with both middle-school students and high-school students. Sixth-graders go into the LifeSkills program, a school-based substance abuse prevention program that focuses on tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

“We’ll reach about 250 sixth-graders in Columbiana and Vincent,” Williams said. “It’s helping kids with everyday situations they might face. This is an age where most youth have not started smoking, so we educate them … so they will make good decisions.”

Columbiana Middle School sixth-graders are in the LifeSkills program now. The Vincent Middle School sixth-graders will enter the program in January.

High-school students go into a youth counseling program where they learn about the dangers of second-hand smoke and are taught to be counselors for other youth. Williams said about 20 high-school students from Vincent High School and Shelby County High School will be selected to do public anti-smoking presentations to city government officials.

If the coalition gets the ADPH grant again next year, the plan is to take the program to Calera, Wilsonville and Harpersville. If funding stays solid, the youth tobacco prevention program should be in all Shelby County cities by 2013, Williams said.

“We are definitely concerned about the health of the children in our community,” she said. “We want to prevent youth from starting (smoking), because it’s hard to stop once you do.”