Tobacco Prevention in the Delta
Indiya Cooks plans to enter the healthcare field, perhaps as a nurse, once she graduates from high school in this small Delta town. To accomplish her goals, Indiya needs all of her brain cells.
“And I know that smoking kills brain cells,” said Indiya, a 17-year-old rising senior at John F. Kennedy Memorial High School. “That’s just one reason why everyone should be tobacco free. Smoking is not just a stupid thing to do, but it makes you stupid.”
Indiya is just one of hundreds of Delta high school and elementary students in Bolivar, Sunflower, Coahoma, Tunica, Quitman and Tallahatchie counties who has learned about the dangers of tobacco use through a cessation and prevention program sponsored by Delta Health Alliance.
“This program has been very successful,” said Leslie Johnson, who directs the program for Delta Health Alliance. “Tobacco prevention is so important because it relates so closely to the chronic diseases we face in the Delta.”
Teaching students the role that tobacco use plays in chronic illnesses and conditions such as obesity, asthma, hypertention and diabetes helps drive home the message that tobacco has no place in anyone’s life, said Johnson. “People tend to overlook that point, so we need to start early to keep children from trying tobacco in the first place,” she said.
Beverly Johnson, a Delta Health Alliance coordinator in Bolivar and Sunflower counties, works with school teachers, nurses and counselors to teach the tobacco prevention curriculum in the classroom for students in K-12 grades. The other two coordinators are Pearl Watts in Quitman and Tallahatchie counties, and Jasmine Pittman in Coahoma and Tunica counties. The program involves three primary components:
- Teaching students the importance of abstaining and ways to abstain from tobacco use.
- Teaching students the effects of tobacco on the body, including the effects of second-hand smoke.
- Teaching students the ways in which tobacco use amplifies chronic diseases.
“They learn that tobacco can cause them and their loved ones to die at an earlier age, and that’s something that really has an impact on them,” said Beverly Johnson. “No one wants to lose a family member because of cigarettes.”
The program is taught in a series of eight lessons, beginning with a pre-test focusing on students’ initial knowledge of tobacco and its dangers, and concluding with a post-test on knowledge gained from the course.
“You wouldn’t think that a kindergarten student would need this information, but our ultimate goal is to keep children from ever starting to smoke, so we need to begin at the earliest age,” said Beverly Johnson. “Hopefully, they’ll share this information with their friends and family. If a child is being taught to live tobacco free, he or she will pass that on.”
One part of the program involves role playing. Indiya and her classmates recently used a restaurant setting to learn how second-hand smoke plays a negative and unhealthy role in people’s lives and the ways in which to deal with instances where second-hand smoke is present.
“The way our teacher explained the lessons to us had an impact on the class,” said Indiya. “It made me want to talk to my friends who smoke to try to get them to stop. I don’t want to see them sick or die because of cigarettes.”