Turning kids away from tobacco sometimes seems like a losing battle, but Boyd County Health Department health educator Cathy Anderson keeps trying.
Every year about this time she makes a round of visits to schools in the county with her anti-tobacco materials, combatting peer pressure and media saturation with a table of leaflets, a few icky props and a giant cigarette mascot.
She chooses this week in March because Wednesday is Kick Butts Day, a national observance seeking to increase awareness of tobacco dangers and how to avoid them.
On Wednesday she was at Boyd County High School, where curious students checked out her visual aids: a couple of jars filled with viscous brown goop and sets of false teeth and a simulacrum of a human jaw with teeth and gums discolored to illustrate the effect of smokeless tobacco use.
“It was gross. It scared me. I don’t want to look like that,” said freshman Melody Hicks when she saw the jaw model.
Anderson hopes her props will have some kind of visceral impact because teen smoking in Kentucky, after decreasing, has jumped back up — to 29 percent — based on the most recent statistics. Also, the percentage of teens in Kentucky who smoke is the highest in the nation, she said.
The statistics are perplexing because the evidence has never been clearer or more widespread that smoking is related to multiple serious health problems.
“Young people think bad things like cancer and heart disease happen to other people,” Anderson said.
Teens start smoking for the same reasons they always have, and the chief one is peer pressure, she said.
So among her messages is the importance of resisting pressure, she said. She also emphasizes the cost of smoking, which at a pack per day can mount to almost $2,000 per year.
In Kentucky it is illegal for minors under 18 to buy cigarettes or to sell smokes to those under 18, and to Anderson that means merchants aren’t checking IDs.
Occasionally she talks to students who want to quit; when that happens she directs them to Quit Now Kentucky, a toll-free telephone service that offers counseling and other help, all free.
The toll-free number is 1-800-784-8669.
Donovan Cyrus, a junior who was assisting Anderson with the display, said students are gravitating to smokeless tobacco.
“A lot of people don’t know how disgusting and harmful to your body it can be,” he said.
Anderson was at Fairview High earlier this week and was scheduled to be at Boyd County Middle School today; she also will visit Paul Blazer High and Verity Middle later on.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.