Posted on 09/11/2013

September 11, 2013 | Blakely, GA – On Tuesday evening, the Early Kicks Tobacco Initiative celebrated the Early County School System’s adoption of a system-wide 100% Tobacco Free Policy. This culminates a two year collaborative effort spearheaded by a partnership with the Cancer Coalition of South Georgia, Southwest GA Public Health District and the Early Kicks Tobacco Coalition.

The first year of the initiative included community assessment to evaluate tobacco use in Early County. Community and school based campaigns including local TV commercials, billboards, signs, postcard mailings and community event displays were launched to educate residents about the dangers of tobacco use.

The 100% Tobacco Free School Policy for districts in Georgia prohibits the use of tobacco products by all students, visitors, faculty, and staff. The policy bans the use of tobacco in school buildings, on school grounds, in school vehicles (or other vehicles used to transport students) and off campus school sponsored events 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Signage acknowledging the policy has been placed in multiple locations at all Early County Schools.

Early Kicks Tobacco Teens was formed in 2012. This group of Early County High School students was passionate about improving their school system through adoption of the 100% Tobacco Free Policy. Group members received training about the harms of tobacco use, advocacy, leadership and presentation skills. Students also held a campus cigarette butt pickup, filmed a local TV commercial and led campus educational activities for their peers. In December 2012, a group of 12 Early Kicks Tobacco Teens made a presentation before the school board advocating for board officials to approve the policy. In June 2013 the Early County School Board officially voted to adopt the policy. Gwen Houston, Executive Director of Family Connection said “Adopting the tobacco free schools policy in Early County would not have been possible without the Early Kicks Tobacco Teens. This group of youth worked tirelessly to educate their peers, teachers, family, and friends about the dangers of tobacco use. We are so proud of the leadership demonstrated by our youth!”

Early County becomes the 93rd school district in Georgia to adopt the GA 100% Tobacco Free model policy. Currently, 51% of Georgia school districts have adopted the policy protecting 1,238,047 Georgia youth and thousands of employees from exposure to harmful tobacco products. Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of premature death and disease in Georgia and the nation. The Cancer Coalition’s Health Education Coordinator Kimberly Scott said tobacco use is responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in Georgia each year, adding that most adult smokers start as teenagers. “Therefore, it is imperative to educate youth on the health implications of tobacco use and also create an environment with minimal exposures to secondhand smoke. Adopting the tobacco-free schools policy is a monumental step towards reducing youth initiation of tobacco products,” Scott explained.

Next steps for the initiative include: Continuing tobacco education campaigns in the community, developing and implementing enforcement strategies and providing cessation resources for students and the community. The Early Kicks Tobacco Coalition partners and support organizations include: Cancer Coalition of South Georgia, Early County Extension Office, Early County Health Department, Early County Housing Authority, Family Connection, Pioneer Community Hospital and Southwest GA Public Health District.

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