Teaching kids to live smoke-free

One of the hardest things a smoker will ever do is try to stop smoking. But something much more difficult than kicking the habit of smoking is attending the funeral of a loved one who died as a result of the habit.

Many men in my family began smoking at an early age, did so their entire lives and died too young as a result of the habit. I expect you too have similar stories you could tell about people important to you who died too soon.

The Shelby County Drug-free Coalition is working to break such patterns by making sure Shelby County students never pick up the habit, thanks to a $28,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Public Health. The grant funding is helping the coalition educate both middle school and high-school students on the dangers of using tobacco, alcohol and drugs in Columbiana and Vincent this current school year.

Results of a recent survey of Shelby County school children indicated that tobacco use was higher for those age groups in Columbiana and Vincent when compared to many other Shelby County Schools.

These alarming discoveries led the coalition to select those two communities to target for greater knowledge of the dangers of tobacco use.

Some 250 sixth-graders will be or are already a part of the coalition’s work in those two communities; additional students in higher grades will also be part of the coalition’s efforts.

If funding for the coalition continues for the coming school year and the years that follow, the plan is to take the program to Calera, Wilsonville and Harpersville in the 2009/2010 school year, with the program reaching students in all Shelby County cities by 2013. Let’s hope that it does.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 24 percent of Alabama students in grades 9-12 were smokers in 2006. This is a clear indicator that the coalition’s work is much needed in our communities and schools.