Smoking tobacco can lead to all types of health problems, a lesson that will taught be to Rim country students with funding from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
"This money comes from the tobacco tax voters approved years ago," said Gila County Superintendent of Schools Armida Bittner. "At that time, voters decided that tobacco tax funds should be used for educational programs, and this year, we're getting $239,368 from that fund."
The Gila County Board of Supervisors accepted the tobacco funds in an intergovernmental agreement approved Tuesday at the board's weekly meeting.
"What we're trying to do is reduce the use of tobacco," said District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen.
With the money, Gila County will employ two full-time and three part-time health specialists who are charged with driving home the dangers of tobacco. Gila County's share of the tobacco tax will be distributed countywide to fund education programs for students and smoking cessation programs for students and adults.
Funding is also provided to allow for random sting operations on county businesses to ensure that tobacco products are not being sold to minors.
"We call them FDA compliance checks," Bittner said. "This is where the kids go to the various businesses. Some of them are able to buy tobacco, others are turned away."
"The national average for tobacco use is about 21 to 22 percent, and (Gila County is) at 38 percent," Christensen said. "At one time, we were even higher than that, so we are making some progress.
Deputies get vests
Gila County deputies will be a little more safe while patrolling with the impending county purchase of 42 ballistic armored vests.
"It's part of the federal program by the Department of Justice," said Chief Deputy Byron Mills. "The Department of Justice pays 50 percent of the costs of the vests. The Attorney General's office jumped in with some funds, and Gila County is picking up the rest."
Total cost of the vests is $21,426. Of that, the federal government is covering half the costs, or $10,713. Using funds from the state's anti-racketeering funds, the Arizona Attorney General's Office is chipping in $2,053, and the county will foot the rest of the bill.
At just 3.25 pounds, the vest is easily concealed, Mills said, and has been tested to stop "all major handgun calibers -- .22, 9-millimeter, .357s, .38 specials, etc." An added bonus, the vest also has been rated "stab resistant," he said. "It stopped a severe thrust from an ice pick."
With the arrival of the new armored vests comes a change in department policy.
"As long as the officers were supplying their own vests, it was up to them to decide whether to wear them," Mills said. "Now that we're purchasing the vests, it will be mandatory that they wear them.
"We feel the same way about these vests as we do about their sidearms," he said. "We don't want our officers out there without the proper equipment."
Once the county receives funds from the other two agencies, Mills said the vests will be shipped in about 30 days.