According to a 2009 survey of more than 2,000 sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students from Lycoming County, 13 percent of 10th graders and 22 percent of 12th graders use cigarettes on a regular basis.
These same 10th graders say that 11 percent of them are using smokeless tobacco and the 12th-graders are telling us that 16 percent of them are using smokeless tobacco.
The same young people say, through the survey, that their age of first use of tobacco is between 12 and 13. These are our seventh and eighth graders.
Lisa Fogelman, a member of the Valley Prevention Services staff, teaches fourth-grade students the importance of staying tobacco-free.
Many also recognize tobacco as being one of the three "gateway drugs" with the other two being marijuana and alcohol. The use of a gateway drug does not mean that a young person using cigarettes eventually will become a cocaine addict. However, the use of a gateway drug, such as tobacco, will tend to put that young person in association with other young people who are using tobacco and some of these young people also may use alcohol. Thus the term gateway - the use of one gateway drug "opens the gate" to exposure to other drugs such as alcohol.
Through funding provided by Lycoming County United Way, Valley Prevention Services is addressing the use of tobacco by young people before the age of first use. Valley Prevention Services is a nonprofit organization whose full-time mission focuses on providing alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention and education services, especially among youth.
Lycoming County United Way funding allows the agency to provide a six-session fourth-grade tobacco prevention program at area elementary schools. Called Get Real About Tobacco, the program not only teaches facts about and consequences of tobacco use but also the skills needed to refuse tobacco. Students literally learn and then practice refusal skills during the lessons.
Rachel, a fourth-grader, recently gave this hand written note to the Valley Prevention Services staff person who provided the lessons in her class.
"We (our class) have a special six-day program that teaches you about not smoking, doing drugs or chewing tobacco. Things like that. Valley Prevention is very fun! We play games to find out what would happen to your lungs if you smoke. Our teacher is the best. She teaches us a lot of stuff. We always take papers home to show our parents, too. When we finish this program we will get a certificate. Now I know to NEVER SMOKE! We are Smoke Free!"
Quite frankly, most pre-adolescents will be approached by someone their age and asked to use tobacco. Through the funding that is provided by the Lycoming County United Way, prevention efforts such as the Get Real About Tobacco program, is helping young people to not only learn the facts about tobacco but also it equips them with the skills they need to refuse tobacco.
Arthur is the executive director of Valley Prevention Services.