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Anti-smoking efforts pay off in East Texas county
Smoked Out

Jefferson County has initiative. The East Texas county has 20 middle and high schools involved in the Texas Department of State Health Services' (DSHS) Tobacco Prevention Initiative (TPI). TPI aims to keep young people away from cigarettes and tobacco and seems to be stubbing out the area's youthful tobacco use.

"Jefferson County showed a significant result in [lowered] tobacco use," said Darah Waldrip of DSHS.

TPI began as a pilot program in 2000. From 2000 to 2004, Jefferson County's middle schools showed a 21 percent decline in the number of students using tobacco, while high schools showed a 41 percent decrease. High schools across the state that did not use the comprehensive approach used in Jefferson County showed a 9 percent decrease in the number of students using tobacco, while use in middle schools rose 2 percent.

Comprehensive programming included media campaigns, school presentations, help from local law enforcement and the American Cancer Society's (ACS) toll-free "Quit Line."

Testing the waters
The 1999 Texas Legislature established the pilot study and funded it with $9 million from the state's $17.3 billion tobacco settlement, Waldrip said. Funding fluctuated after the pilot wrapped up. The 2005 Legislature appropriated $6.9 million for TPI for fiscal 2006 and about $7 million for fiscal 2007.

The pilot program targeted 18 East Texas cities and counties, selected due to high rates of lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases as well as demographics targeted by the tobacco industry, according to DSHS. The agency used different combinations of the anti-smoking message in different areas.

"Some got education, some got education and media, some got heavy media," she said.

Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties also originally received comprehensive programming with results similar to those in Jefferson County, but the program's 2006 budget does not allow that to continue, Waldrip said.

"It is important to note that we still do have a media presence there, but not as much as we did," she said.

Movin' on up
Nelda Brown coordinates TPI's comprehensive efforts in Jefferson County through the Region 5 Education Service Center.

"We have funds and stipends for [the schools] to help them," she said. "But we have meetings with them, and they use their own creative juices to come up with ways to get the point across."

Brown arranges speakers and presenters--often stepping in and speaking herself--for school assemblies and presentations. She has contacts who have suffered from life-changing diseases due to tobacco use and, more on the "cool side," she said, motorcycle groups that come, bikes in tow, and speak on the power of choosing a tobacco-free road.

Comments from a May 2006 conference with local educators tell her they're making a difference.

"Just the other day, someone told me about the talk they hear amongst the kids in the hall and how what we do is making a difference in their decisions," she said.

Smoky horizon
Where DSHS' tobacco prevention efforts go in the future is unclear, Waldrip said.

"We're continuing to do as much as we can [in Jefferson County], as well as trying to be more creative in our efforts around the state," she said.

DSHS places media "buys" in different areas of the state to keep the message out there, Waldrip said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the state spend $3 per person on tobacco prevention and cessation, but DSHS only has enough funding to spend the full $3 per person in Jefferson County, Waldrip said.

The volume of calls to the ACS Quit Line increased after the program began, and DSHS will continue to fine-tune its efforts, Waldrip said.

"Each year we look at our media campaigns and try and decide where we can get more creative with our efforts," she said. "You have to do the best you can to look at things in a creative way."

Clint Shields