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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

iBerkshires Focus On Community Health

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, January 27, 2006

REACH Community Health Foundation Community Health Advocate Sharon Leary
North Adams - It's illegal, expensive, and cited as a major threat to adult health, yet many area public school students aged 12-18 are smoking cigarettes.

Armed with a $1,400 "Get the Word Out" mini-grant awarded by the Medical Foundation Youth Action Initiative, the Northern Berkshire Healthcare REACH Foundation members are hoping that students enrolled at three city schools can create anti-smoking messages that stop their peers from lighting up a first cigarette.

"Clear The Air" Campaign

Students at the Drury and Charles H. McCann Technical high schools and the Silvio O. Conte Middle School are invited to craft a print, radio, or television advertisement focused on discouraging youth smoking or encouraging youths with a cigarette habit to quit. First, second, and third place winners will be selected in each category and first-place winners will see their ads used during a public "Clear the Air" media campaign.

The selected top print ads will appear in local newspapers, radio messages are expected to be broadcast on local radio station WNAW and television spots are expected to appear on public access television channels governed by the Northern Berkshire Community Television group.

Rolling Out the "Red Carpet"

REACH Foundation Community Health Advocate Sharon Leary said that she is very excited about student participation. A "red carpet, Oscar-style event" ceremony is being planned to announce the contest winners, Leary said.

"What we are asking them to do is create a media campaign against smoking," Leary said. "The students will come up with the messages that they believe will affect their peers. They will probably come up with something that we"d never think of."

Leary met with a McCann Students Against Destructive Decisions contingent last week to discuss the contest, and the students were eager to participate, she said.

"They were very excited about this, especially the idea of a red-carpet ceremony," Leary said.

All participating students will be offered information about tobacco and smoking health risks, nicotine and nicotine addiction, and health media literacy, according to information provided by Leary.

Youth Smoking By The Numbers

According to a 2005 student health survey completed by 1032 eighth, tenth, and twelfth grade students enrolled at Drury, McCann, Hoosac Valley and Mount Greylock Regional high schools as well as the Conte and Adams Memorial middle schools, 11.2 percent of students smoked a first cigarette while attending eighth grade. Survey results indicated that first cigarettes were smoked by 12.2 percent of tenth grade students and 13.8 percent of high school seniors reported smoking a first cigarette while in the twelfth grade.

And the percentage of students who claim to smoke regularly is even higher: according to the survey, 14 percent of eighth grade students, 22 percent of tenth grade students, and 30 percent of twelfth grade students reported daily smoking habits.

Contest entries must be received by April 15, and the awards ceremony is being planned for late April, Leary said.

Cigarette smoking is linked to dozens of serious illnesses and conditions, including lung and other cancers, emphysema and other lung or breathing disorders. According to information provided by the state Department of Public Health, almost 1,000 state residents die yearly from the health impacts of second-hand smoke.

If Smoking Never Starts, Quitting Is No Problem

Leary said that she would like to see the contest become an annual event.

"I'm hoping that this could be a yearly thing," she said. "This is the age group to target; if we can get them to not start smoking, they won"t ever have the problem of quitting. I started smoking at that age and I know how difficult it is to quit. For me, getting kids to not start smoking is the biggest thing."

Additional information about the "Clear the Air" campaign is available by contacting Leary at 413-664-5404. Additional information about all REACH Foundation programs may be acquired by calling 413-664-5326.

Susan Bush may be reached at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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