A grant has been awarded to the Highland County Health Department to help curb underage tobacco use in the county, according to county Health Commissioner Jared Warner.
The $20,000 grant was awarded to the health department by Interact for Health, a Cincinnati nonprofit, to fund tobacco prevention education among the community’s youth, highlighting the harmful effects of cigarettes, cigars, vaping, hookah, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco and other addictive substances.
“We are really excited to get this program started,” Warner said. “The young people in this county are using tobacco at almost twice the rate as the rest of Ohio.”
According to an information compiled by the health department, 12 percent of high school students in Highland County have smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days, compared to the national average of seven percent.
According to the statistics, the average age at which young people who do use tobacco first try it is 12.7.
Tobacco is consumed by youths mostly over the weekend at parties or with friends, rather than at school, and while 85.9 percent of young people see tobacco as harmful, 20.9 percent are still actively using it, according to statistics.
According to a press release from Interact for Health, more than 28 percent of students around the country report using some sort of tobacco product at least annually.
More than 16 million Americans have at least one disease caused by smoking, which equals $170 billion in direct medical costs every year, according to the release.
The smoking rates in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are all higher than the national average, and rates are significantly higher for low-income and minority populations, according to the release.
Despite declining universal smoking rates, great health disparities still exist, according to the release, since research shows individuals with less than a high school education, below the federal poverty level, and who live in rural locations are using tobacco at significantly higher rates than the national average.
“As a community, these statistics should be a real wake-up call,” Warner said. “We need to do more as a health department, as a community, and as parents to educate our kids on the dangers of tobacco use.”
According to the release, the grant is part of a larger Interact for Health initiative, celebrating the organization’s 20th anniversary by providing $20,000 to each of the 20 counties in the Greater Cincinnati region to reduce tobacco use in low-income communities.
“Historically, tobacco prevention efforts have not focused on our poorest communities, which has left huge disparities,” said Dr. O’dell Moreno Owens, president and CEO of Interact for Health. “To move towards the goal of having the healthiest region in the country, we need to reduce tobacco in every community and neighborhood.”
Grants in each county are focused on tobacco prevention and the expansion of a tobacco-free environment.
Warner said a related project is the “Hidden in Plan Sight” program, where the health department sets up a mock teenager’s bedroom and hides tobacco, alcohol and substance abuse items in the room.
“Parents are then invited in to see if they can identify signs of substance abuse,” he said. “We will continue promoting this program as a way to give parents a hands-on, practical way to prevent substance abuse.”
Warner also said the health department is working with local schools to provide tobacco education to students from grades 7-12.
For more information on these programs and public health in Highland County, visit the health department’s website at www.highlandcountyhealth.org, or call 937-393-1941.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.