Central Louisiana communities this month participated in the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a nationally recognized event that encourages smokers to quit for a lifetime by starting with just one day.
The Catahoula Parish School District, Central Louisiana Area Health Education Center, the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center and Wellness Works in Cenla were each awarded grants from The Rapides Foundation’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Initiative to fund tobacco control activities throughout the year.
The Foundation encourages support of the Great American Smokeout because of its proven effectiveness. “One of the major goals of our Tobacco Prevention and Control Initiative is to promote quitting among adults,” said Joe Rosier, president and chief executive officer of The Rapides Foundation. “We know that about 24 percent of Central Louisiana adults smoke cigarettes, so this is the perfect opportunity to encourage them to quit.”
The Great American Smokeout launched in 1976 to inspire and encourage smokers to quit for one day. Now, 39.8 percent of the 43.4 million Americans who smoke have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year, and the Great American Smokeout remains a great opportunity to encourage people to commit to making a long-term plan to quit for good.
In Catahoula Parish, Jonesville Junior High School students Brittany Fletcher and Taylor Perron presented the Great American Smokeout Day Proclamation to the Catahoula Parish School Board during the board’s November meeting. Students across the parish advocated Nov. 19 as the recognized day for people to put down their cigarettes, spit tobacco and other tobacco products, said coordinator Linda Edwards.
The Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center and the Central Louisiana AHEC monitored Great American Smokeout stations at various public events throughout the month. The stations provide visitors with numerous resources to help them quit using tobacco, including a “Quit Kit” and access to the Louisiana Tobacco Quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Central Louisiana AHEC had stations at a Lecompte Rotary Club meeting, Marksville and Winnfield high schools’ homecomings, a Louisiana College football game, the Louisiana Pecan Festival in Colfax, a tractor pull in Jena, the City of Alexandria’s Health Walk, an Aviation Rendezvous in Natchitoches Parish, a health fair in Leesville, the Cabrini Cancer Center and other locations. By the end of a five-week period, Central Louisiana AHEC’s Tobacco Outreach Coordinator Terry Thibodeaux had handed out more than 2,000 “Quit Kits.”
“I talked to many people who, from the heart, were saying, ‘I really need to quit. I want to quit,’” she said. At one event, a middle-aged man approached her to ask the location of the nearest smoking section. When she pointed out she was working an “It’s Quitting Time” booth, the man apologized and walked away. Not long after that, the man returned and with all sincerity said, “Ma’am, please give me all the information you have to help me quit smoking. Seeing you was a sign that I need to quit.”
On Nov. 7, the Southwest Louisiana AHEC had a station at Kingdom Rockfest 2009 at the Camp Coushatta Pavilion on the Coushatta Reservation in Elton, La. Hundreds attended the family-entertainment event, which was held in conjunction with both the Great American Smokeout and Red Ribbon Week.
“We had a great turnout and many people said they were going to try to quit smoking on the Great American Smokeout,” said Rene’ Stansbury, tobacco control coordinator for Southwest Louisiana AHEC. “Many of the attendees welcomed the information, and the children loved the games and prizes.”
She said Pastor Chris Harjo, one of the event’s organizers, was excited about the educational information available for the tribal members and looked forward to doing other activities to increase the awareness about the dangers of tobacco use.
Wellness Works in Cenla participated in the Great American Smokeout by providing tobacco cessation materials to Central Louisiana employers.
These four organizations will continue to do activities throughout the year to support the Foundation’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Initiative. The initiative’s goals are to help people quit using tobacco, to prevent young people from ever starting and to eliminate people’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
Jonesville Junior High School students Brittany Fletcher, left, and Taylor Perron presented the Great American Smokeout Day Proclamation to the Catahoula Parish School Board during the board's November meeting.
Students across the parish are advocating November 19 as the recognized day for people to put down their cigarettes, spit tobacco and other tobacco products.
Schools around Central Louisiana were busy this month trying to keep students from ever starting to use tobacco, and much of this work is student-led.
As part of a tobacco prevention and control grant from The Rapides Foundation, schools in seven parish school districts (Allen, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Grant, Natchitoches, Rapides and Winn) began using evidence-based strategies in September and will continue through April 2010.
“About 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18,” said Joe Rosier, president and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “Therefore, it is important for us to focus our resources on stopping this age group from ever picking up any tobacco products.”
First the schools are either creating new tobacco-free school policies or increasing awareness of their existing policies.
The students are also taking part in a national program called “Tar Wars,” which uses junior and senior high school students to educate fourth and fifth graders about being tobacco free. More than 150 Central Louisiana students were trained as presenters for “Tar Wars” by Central Louisiana Area Health Education Center.
“Secrets through the Smoke,” an educational video on the science of addiction and effective marketing practices of the tobacco industry, is being shown to junior and senior high school students.
Schools are raising awareness to students’ parents about the dangers of tobacco use through basketball shoot-out events at the schools’ games.
Each school system has a district-level grant coordinator to act as the point of contact for the Foundation and the grant activities. In addition, each school has a coordinator. The coordinators are trained on how to carry out evidence-based school activities throughout the school year. They receive guidance from experts with the Atlanta-based Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium.
The Foundation launched its Tobacco Prevention and Control Initiative in early 2008. Its goals include getting adults to quit using tobacco, and to prevent young people from ever starting. In its second year, the Foundation awarded $428,000 in grants.