PARKERSBURG - While the rate of high school kids smoking has been cut nearly in half since the mid-1990s, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students will smoke, according to a recent U.S. Surgeon General's report.
Twenty years ago the average age teens began smoking was 16. Today the average age of first smoking is between 12 and 14. There are many resources and programs aimed at trying to stop teens from starting and others to help teens and adults kick the habit.
Tony Richards is the program specialist with Not On Tobacco, a program offered through the American Lung Association.
RAZE is a tobacco prevention group that sponsors activities to raise awareness among teens of the dangers of smoking.
"The RAZE program works on prevention; getting kids not to use in the first place," he said. "The RAZE program is statewide. There are RAZE crews all over the Mid-Ohio Valley. The kids come to be trained, then they teach other kids. It's a peer-to-peer program. We offer three statewide events annually and provide lots of fun activities for the kids. If they are smoking, the N.O.T. Program kicks in," Richards said.
The N.O.T. program was developed at West Virginia University and has since gone international. It is sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Education and West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention.
"We are very proud the program started here. This program trains adults who want to help kids quit smoking, it includes spit tobacco as well. Once they are trained they go out into the communities. Parkersburg High School and Parkersburg South High School have N.O.T. Programs," Richards said.
For More Information
Call the American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNGUSA or 304-342-6660.
The website for the RAZE program is www.razewv.com.
For more information on tobacco cessation or to schedule Tobacco Prevention Specialist Jamie Jacobsen to speak, call 304-485-7374, extension 152, or toll-free 1-888-550-6797.
Evaluation reports for the program show 22 percent of participants were smoke-free six months after the program ended. Of those who continued to smoke, 65 percent reduced their smoking on weekdays, 75 percent on weekends, 85 percent believed the program helped them alter their smoking behavior. Nearly 90 percent either quit or reduced their smoking.
There are a number of local RAZE chapters. Soumia Smiri is a member of the PHS RAZE group.
"I got involved at Jackson Junior High School then joined the high school group," she said, adding she was inspired to get involved because a family member suffered from emphysema.
"As a kid I wanted to make a difference. I didn't want to see anyone else suffer the way she had. I really enjoyed the group and now I'm involved at the state level. We sponsor commotions, events to raise awareness. We do really cool stuff. We show the kids some of the physical effects of smoking. We are having one in November at West Virginia University," Smiri said.
One of the group's goals is creation of Tobacco Free parks.
"I don't want to see anyone exposed. We tell the kids about the effects of secondhand smoke too," Smiri said.
Seventeen-year-old Smiri said it seems to her there are less teens smoking nowadays.
"It used to be everyone wanted to do it. Don't get me wrong there are still kids who smoke, but it's just not cool anymore. Kids tend to look down on those who are smoking," she said.
Smiri said RAZE activities get the kids' attention.
"Kids don't always listen to their parents. They may not really pay attention. But through the commotions and other activities we show them, they can see the numbers of people who have died. We show them the consequences of what is going to happen if they smoke. I think it really does make an impact as we get out and talk about it and show them things," she said.
"I'm really passionate about this. I don't ever want anyone else to get sick. We are changing people's view of smoking," she said.
Jamie Jacobsen, regional tobacco prevention coordinator with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, said the health department offers a number of programs to help teens and adults kick the habit.
"We have several Quit Tobacco workshops coming this fall. They are open to any age and they are free. We provide information on quitting whether it's going cold turkey, tapering off, using nicotine replacements. We also give them coping techniques like relaxation exercises, and let them know what withdrawal symptoms to expect," she said.
The number for the Quit Line is 877-966-8784.
"You can get patches, gum, lozenges at no cost through the Quit Line. There are no income guidelines. You just have to be a county resident in one of the six counties served by the health department," Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen has informational materials on a wide range of topics from smoking and sports, to talking to your teen about smoking. Jacobsen can speak to groups and conduct quit smoking workshops at interested businesses at no cost to them. Activities are funded through a grant.
According to the Surgeon General, nine 9 out of 10 smokers started by age 18, and 99 percent started by 26. According to the Division of West Virginia Tobacco Prevention, Department of Health and Human Resources, 2,407 West Virginia kids have become regular smokers this year.