CHIPLEY — Vernon High School student Jessica Young gave the Washington County School Board an update on the district’s Students Working Against Tobacco program during Monday’s board meeting in Chipley.
Young, 16, reported that the SWAT and Tobacco Free Partnership students have been active at the Watermelon Festival, Possum Festival and Relay for Life among other events, working to bring awareness of the anti-tobacco program to children and adults.
“We’ve distributed posters, coloring books, and other items,” Young said. “We’re always looking for new ways to get our message to the kids.”
SWAT, along with the Tobacco Free Partnership, works to get the message out to school children that using tobacco is not a good idea.
SWAT is Florida's statewide youth organization working to mobilize, educate and equip Florida youth to revolt against and de-glamorize Big Tobacco,” according to the website, floridahealth.gov. SWAT is a united movement of empowered youth working towards a tobacco free future.
Groups like SWAT and Tobacco Free Florida, are working to make sure as many teens as possible never start using tobacco.
According to the Florida Health Department website, the tobacco industry spends more than $700 million a year in marketing in the state of Florida alone. The marketing is aimed at getting teens to begin smoking, and 9 out of 10 current smokers started in their teens.
Preventing tobacco use and encouraging cessation among young people are critical in combating the tobacco epidemic because nearly nine out of 10 smokers start by age 18.
In fact, despite the progress in reducing the number of smokers, an estimated 18,900 youth (under 18years) in Florida will become new cigarette smokers this year, according to the website tobaccofreeflorida.org. Of every three young smokers, only one will quit,
and one of those remaining smokers will die from tobacco-related causes.
“Data shows the number of youth who try or habitually use tobacco increases with each increasing grade level,” said Tobacco Free Florida Bureau Chief Shannon Hughes. “As students go back to school, now is a perfect time for parents to talk with their kids about the dangers of tobacco use.”
Washington County Schools have a tobacco free school policy, which includes all school grounds and applies to all students, school staff and visitors.
Besides tobacco, the SWAT kids are also distributing information on nutrition and anti-bullying.
Young was recently named to the state’s SWAT Youth Advocacy Board.
“It’s wonderful that we have such an active SWAT group in our county,” said Board Member Susan Roberts.
Board President Terry Ellis also congratulated Young on her work with SWAT. “You’re learning early how to make a difference in your community,” he said.