County Mounts Attack On Tobacco

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Even though Gila County just last week received $239,368 in funding from the state for tobacco education, county school officials have already launched their annual campaign to stamp out tobacco use.


Rayla Mills, program coordinator for Gila County schools, said funding for prevention programs is provided on an annual basis, allowing her department to provide four basic services to county residents.


Mills said the success of the county's program is the result of starting small and growing the program gradually to achieve the maximum benefits.


"In fiscal year 1998/99, funding for the tobacco program was $194,242," she said. That was an increase over the previous year's budget of $111,468. The year before that, fiscal year 1996/97, the budget was $91,100.


The first service is to help the area devise a comprehensive community plan.


"This is an ongoing plan," she said. "We have adult coalitions that participate, as well as our youth coalitions that help us in the planning process." These coalitions help county schools develop plans that will best suit their individual school districts.


For example, Mills said, surveys have shown that, while tobacco remains a problem in both Globe and Payson, the kinds of use is different. Globe has more of a problem with cigarettes, while Payson youth are using more chewing tobacco. By conducting these surveys, school officials can tailor their classes accordingly.


The second aspect of the program is prevention.


"We have team mentors who actually go into the classrooms," Mills said. "By using the teens --'peer helpers' I think they're called in Payson --it's a real win-win thing. Not only are students repeating what they need to hear as far as prevention, but the younger students, who admire these teens so much, are getting the message from the students they look up to. I think they pay attention more than when the message comes from adults."

Another part of the prevention service is a Youth Leadership Summit


"We invite teens from all over the county to participate," she said. "Because the school population is transient --they go from one grade to a higher grade --we do constant training with the students as far as leadership skills and abilities. These students are the heart and soul of our program."


In addition to teaching the dangers of tobacco products, the schools also work to reduce the availability of tobacco to minors. Such measures have included "compliance checks," or tobacco stings on various stores around the county suspected of selling tobacco to minors.


When all else fails and a student ends up an addicted smoker, the county program has a number of cessation programs to help them kick the habit.


"This is probably the biggest part of our budget," Mills said. "We aren't just providing classes for our youth, but now for adults as well."


Gila County has initiated a toll-free number young and old alike can call to get information on classes to quit smoking. That number is (800) 810-7363.


The county also has funds available to help low-income residents with nicotine replacement therapy. "If their insurance doesn't allow for any kind of replacement therapy, then we can help," Mills said.


Cessation classes are also held for pregnant women and new mothers who want to quit.


"It's harder to find pregnant women who will openly admit that they are still smoking," Mills said. "So we work with the health department and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) to reach women, and we have brochures in doctors' offices."

Smoke-free

The final service the county provides is promoting tobacco-free environments.


"We already have tobacco-free schools, and don't allow smoking at any sporting events on school campus," she said.


The program also provides education for day-care providers to teach the dangers of second-hand smoke.


"We also promote tobacco-free workplaces, which would include restaurants and businesses," she said.


Mills said the county mailed out surveys to restaurants all over the county and received surprising results.


"Payson returned more of the surveys than southern Gila County," she said. Of the 49 surveys mailed out to Rim country restaurants, 17 were returned. Of those, nearly 50 percent reported that they were smoke-free establishments.


"Nine of them were no-smoking restaurants," she said. "They are the Swiss Village Bakery, Pizza Factory, McDonald's, Burger King, The Small Cafe, Subway, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Arby's."


To learn more about the county's anti-tobacco program, contact Mills at (800) 304-4452, ext. 337. To learn more about cessation classes, call (800) 810-7363.

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