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Young smokers can wind up in court-ordered education program

Not too many years ago, teachers and administrators used to congregate in the boiler room or the coach’s office at the older school buildings to sneak a smoke between classes or after lunch. Adults and students turned concession areas into dense, smoke-filled rooms at basketball games. Kids ‘dragged’ outside the buildings, too. It used to be cool to sit in a car in the school parking lot before class and smoke. It was all part of growing up, some thought.
No more.
Today, kids between the age of 12 and 18 who bring tobacco products to school don’t get a reprimand by the principal or a phone call to the parents (who are probably smokers themselves). Today, everyone knows just how damaging tobacco smoke is to one’s body (and every other body around it), and the repercussions are stiff ‘ and educational.
Kids who bring cigarettes to school are referred to the Harrison Circuit Court Juvenile Probation Office, which refers them to another class after school: mandatory court-ordered tobacco education classes at Harrison County Hospital in Corydon where the dangers of tobacco smoking and addiction are laid out in graphic form from medical experts.
Jennifer Riley coordinates the Harrison County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition in Harrison County. (She’s also the wellness coordinator at HCH.) Beginning last month, the coalition started a new partnership with Harrison Circuit Court Judge H. Lloyd (Tad) Whitis and his juvenile probation department. It’s called TEG for Tobacco Education Group.
Young smokers must attend classes from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on four consecutive Mondays. Even 12-year-olds. That may seem a bit young for court-ordered anti-smoking classes, but Riley knows of kids who started smoking when they were seven.
‘The kids aren’t thrilled to be here,’ said Riley. For one thing, they can’t smoke during the TEG classes. (The hospital, like all public schools now, is a smoke-free facility.) Riley knows she can’t make the young people stop smoking, but she can provide them with a steady stream of dramatic facts for them to ponder.
They watch video documentaries about real-life tragedies brought on by smoking. HCH cardiac rehab coordinator Diane Johnson tells the kids how smoking damages the heart muscle. Riley said Johnson is a ‘great speaker’ who uses a model heart and special graphics for demonstrations. Respiration department employees let the kids breathe into the hospital’s new $2,400 spirometer, purchased recently by the hospital foundation. It reveals short- and long-term breathing capacity with a computer print-out.
They complete pre-class and post-class surveys to give Riley an idea of how much they know about the dangers of smoking to begin with and how much progress they make in four weeks. Riley said she can tell that local schools do an ‘excellent job of educating kids with facts’ about tobacco products.
So far, she’s had seven kids in the first program and four in the second. She thinks they’ve made good progress in one month. Three kids have told her they will give up smoking.
Riley’s work is funded by a grant from the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation program started in 2002 by the late Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon of Corydon. Riley said he was one of three governors who put money into this program when Indiana and other states started getting master settlement money from big tobacco companies following an historic court settlement. ‘He was a front-runner,’ Riley said.
All 92 counties in Indiana now have similar grassroots tobacco education programs. Starting in August 2004, all public schools are tobacco-free and are enforcing the law, Riley said.
Riley visits all local schools and provides ‘hands-on, in-your-face’ education programs about the dangers of smoking and chewing. She also coordinates the Great American Smoke-Out on Nov. 18 and the Kick Butts Day coming up in March.
Riley’s program is funded only through June 30 of 2005. ‘We’d love to continue,’ she said.
The federal government first started warning of the dangers of tobacco smoke in 1964. Big strides have been made ever since.
The 2003-2004 annual report by Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation, says:
‘ Youth smoking is at the lowest level in recent years. Cigarette smoking among Indiana high school students dropped from 32 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2002.
‘ Hoosiers are smoking less. Cigarette consumption in Indiana has decreased 18.5 percent since 2002.
‘ The number of retailers selling cigarettes to minors is the lowest ever recorded. It dropped to 13 percent, compared with 29 percent in 2001.
Riley said progress has been made here to protect the population from secondhand smoke and to reduce ‘youth initiation,’ but much remains to be done here and across the state.
While the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation program that provides local funding is based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s ‘Best Practices’ model, funding for the comprehensive program falls far short of the $35 million annual budget recommended by the CDC. Previously Indiana was recognized by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids as one of four leading states who were using the Master Settlement funds. The bud-get for ITPC and its partner programs in all 92 counties has been reduced to only $10.8 million, Riley said.
‘Lack of funding will not only cause these successes to cease, but will also result in the reversal of this trend toward the reduced initiation of tobacco use by Harrison County youth and youth across the state, as well as increase the financial burden tobacco causes for all Hoosiers,’ Riley said.
Indiana spent $2.3 billion on Medicaid in 1998 ‘ much of that was used to treat those afflicted with numerous illnesses caused by tobacco use. ‘Funding for these local programs, through ITPC, is crucial to continue the success of programs like those offered locally through Harrison County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation and the Harrison County Hospital,’ Riley said.