Preventing Teen Tobacco Use

Tobacco is a killer — especially when smokers start young — so Get Healthy, Live Well is using an arsenal of tools to combat teenage tobacco use.

Research shows that the earlier a teen first tries smoking, the more likely he or she is to become a regular smoker, and the less likely he or she is to quit , according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

In fact, about 80 percent of all adult smokers begin smoking before the age of 18, according to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. So it’s critical to prevent and reduce teenage tobacco use.

“If you start before you are 20, it is harder to quit and you are less likely to quit later in life, so it’s really important to reach out to kids now,” said Phyllis Head, community outreach coordinator at Tanner Health System.

Today is the perfect time to quit for a teenage smoker. “If you quit now, you can reverse the damage so much more quickly rather than waiting years and years and letting the damage to your body build up,” said Shirley Hildebrandt, community benefit coordinator at Tanner Health System.

Don’t Be a Bonehead Campaign
Get Healthy, Live Well’s Tobacco-Free Living task force aims to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke and cut tobacco use among youth (and adults, too).

The “Don’t be a Bonehead” campaign was created to spread the tobacco-free message especially to teens in Carroll, Haralson and Heard Counties. Check out our Facebook page at

Teens Against Tobacco Ambassadors
Teens Against Tobacco ambassadors will also provide a great tool for reaching teenagers. Through this program, local students will serve as ambassadors to help bring important anti-tobacco messages into schools.|

Samantha Neeley, a senior at Carroll County High School, will be one of the first ambassadors. She has already created a rap to tell it like it is to teens.

Neeley says the ambassadors will be able to get the attention of their peers and share the message that tobacco is anything but cool.

“Students listen more to their peers than they do parents and adult figures,” Neeley said. “Part of it is because teenagers are always thinking, ‘What will my friends think of me?’”

Smoking Cessation Classes at 12 for Life
Another way that Get Healthy, Live Well is reaching teens is through the 12 for Life program. Supported by Southwire, the program places at-risk students in real jobs at Southwire and allows them to earn wages while working toward their diplomas and getting support and mentoring.

Get Healthy, Live Well has started a smoking cessation and education class for the students at Southwire. The class uses an interactive approach to capture the teens’ attention.

“We give them a lot of visuals and we try to get them to interact a bit more than adults would,” says Hildebrandt, who is teaching the class for the 12 for Life students. For example, in the first class Hildebrandt brought in an assortment of chemicals, like ammonia and acetone, so the students could see what is actually in cigarettes besides tobacco. The goal is to get those who use tobacco to stop and to prevent other teens from trying it.

Kicking a Dangerous Addiction
Preventing kids from even trying tobacco is crucial because smoking is so addictive. More than one-third of kids who simply try smoking a cigarette will become regular, daily smokers before leaving high school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Ideally we’d like to get the kids never to start smoking, rather than having to get them to quit,” says Head. “It’s just so hard to quit.”

In fact, the addiction rate for smoking (the percentage of experimenters who become habitual users) is higher than the addiction rates for marijuana, alcohol or cocaine, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. That’s just more reason to never start smoking.