Daisia Stewart wants to make sure that the people around her understand the harmful effects of tobacco.
“Because as society grows, these manufacturers will continue to add more addictive chemicals to their products,” said the Madison Palmer High School senior. “Our youth, as young as middle school students, are using tobacco and electronic cigarettes. They don’t know the true facts about these e-cigarettes.”
Helping her deliver that message is the tobacco prevention and cessation program sponsored and overseen by the Delta Health Alliance (DHA). And with new funding, the nine-year-old program is able to continue its mission by transitioning from schools into communities in Bolivar, Sunflower, Coahoma, Tunica, Quitman and Tallahatchie counties.
“This year, the focus is still on both tobacco prevention and cessation, but more within these communities,” said Leslie Johnson, program director for DHA. “The school activities consist of ensuring tobacco-free, no vaping school signs are posted throughout campuses, and tobacco-free public service announcements will be made at school-related functions, such as sporting events, meetings, concerts and plays.”
Tobacco coordinators will partner with youth groups within communities and perform summer activities with those young people, she said. Coordinators educate youth and encourage them to be the voice of young people in those communities.
Since its inception, Johnson estimates that about 1,500 students in K-12 have benefited from the tobacco prevention and cessation program. Statistics reflect the need for such programs in Mississippi.
- Mississippi’s youth prevalence rates for combustible cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are similar to national averages, with Mississippi ranging from 6.9 percent for current high school smokers to 5.4 percent for current high school smokeless tobacco users. Cigar use in Mississippi is slightly higher than the national average, standing at 10.3 percent for the same group.
- E-cigarette use among youth remains a significant health concern in Mississippi with current rates of use almost doubling from the previous year.
- Increased e-cigarette use has erased previous declines in overall youth tobacco product use.
“You can see from the statistics how important this program is in educating these young people before they go down that path of tobacco use and the health issues that come with it,” said Johnson.
Part of the tobacco program’s efforts are focused on working with communities in adopting smoke-free ordinances. In the past fiscal year, two towns, Crowder and Falcon, have adopted such ordinances in an effort improve the health of its residents by eliminating smoking in public buildings and housing .
Educating communities about 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.
“Students, parents, community leaders, healthcare professionals, we all have a responsibility to understand the dangers of tobacco use and spread that word to others,” she said. “I feel really good about the success of this program.”