August 18, 2015 | Dawson, GA – The Terrell County Greenwaves Against Tobacco youth coalition’s advocacy efforts for a system-wide 100% Tobacco-Free Schools policy has paid off. Culminating a year-long effort, the youth group presented information about tobacco use to the Terrell County School Board at their July meeting, encouraging the school board to adopt the state Department of Public Health’s model policy aimed at eliminating exposure to tobacco products among youths. The school board responded, unanimously agreeing to amend the current tobacco policy to meet the state’s requirements for a 100% Tobacco-Free Schools designation.

The Greenwaves Against Tobacco initiative is a partnership of the Cancer Coalition of South Georgia and the Southwest Georgia Public Health District. Director of the Cancer Coalition’s Center to Reduce Cancer Disparities Kimberly Scott praised the teens for their leadership. “Adopting the tobacco free schools policy in Terrell County would not have been possible without the Greenwaves Against Tobacco teens. This group has worked hard to educate their peers, teachers, family and friends about the dangers of tobacco use. We are so proud of the leadership demonstrated by these young people,” Scott said.

Seventeen year old high school senior and Greewaves Against Tobacco member Brandon Smith was among those youths who got involved early. “I joined Greenwaves Against Tobacco because I want my classmates and others to understand all of the possible dangers associated with using tobacco-related products,” Smith explained.

The Georgia 100% Tobacco Free Schools Policy prohibits the use of tobacco products by all students, visitors, faculty, and staff in school buildings, on school grounds, in school vehicles (or other vehicles used to transport students), and at off campus school sponsored events, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Scott said signage will be placed in multiple locations around Terrell County School System facilities.

Scott said the youth group received training about the harms of tobacco use, advocacy, leadership and presentation skills. Students also held a campus cigarette butt pickup and led educational activities for their peers.

Terrell County is now the 103rd school district in the state to adopt the Georgia 100% Tobacco-Free Schools model policy. As a result, more than 1 million Georgia youth and thousands of employees are protected from exposure to harmful tobacco products. Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of premature death and disease in Georgia and the nation. 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.

Scott said the next steps for the initiative include continuing community education efforts, developing and implementing enforcement strategies and providing cessation resources for the community.

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