Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Two Community Leadership Institute of Ky. graduates start projects to decrease youth smoking in three Appalachian counties

Two recent graduates of the Community Leadership Institute of Kentucky are working on projects to decrease youth smoking in three Appalachian counties, Mallory Powell and the Kentucky Office of Rural Health report for Morehead State Public Radio.

CLIK, now in its third year, is a program that provides research and leadership training, funding and technical support for health-related research projects. In all, there were nine graduates in the 2017 class.

One project, led by Sherrie Stidham, a teacher turned health educator for the Kentucky River District Health Department and the Perry County Health Department, will work toward implementing 100 percent tobacco-free policies in schools in Letcher and Perry counties.

Students in these districts are already prohibited from using tobacco on the school campus, but staff and visitors are able to smoke in designated areas.

Schools are considered 100 percent tobacco-free if they don't allow tobacco products, including vapor products and alternative nicotine products, by staff, students and visitors at any time on school owned property or during school-sponsored trips and activities.

As of July 2017, 64 of the state's 173 school districts had 100 percent tobacco-free policies, about 37 percent. However, many of these schools need to update the newly added vapor product and electronic cigarette standards. Kentucky teens have the third highest smoking rate in the nation, at 16.9 percent. The national average is 8 percent.

As part of her project, Stidham is conducting a community survey to gauge support for tobacco-free schools in each county, which she will eventually present to the school boards in each county. She has also offered to help school districts create their policies and to lead tobacco cessation programs in the schools, including "Freedom from Smoking" for adults and the "Not on Tobacco" program for students.

“We are out here trying to do everything we can to help kids learn and be successful,” she told Morehead State Public Radio. “But they also need to know how to stay healthy, and if we don’t help them learn that as well, they’re not going to live love enough to enjoy their success.”

The other youth smoking project, led by Ashley Gibson, a research coordinator at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, will work to develop an "alternative to punishment" program at Rowan County High School for students who violate the school's tobacco-free policy -- which only prohibits students from smoking.

MSPR reports that the alternative to punishment program would allow students caught with tobacco to participate in the "Not on Tobacco" teen smoking cessation program in place of half of their punishment, which is currently in-school suspension for the first two offenses and out-of-school suspension subsequently.

Gibson, who will be working with others in the school and community on this project, told MSPR that she was inspired to make this her CLIK project after learning that the principal of the Rowan County Senior High School was having a real problem with absenteeism because of their tobacco policy.

“Our attendance was negatively affected last year because of suspensions due to tobacco use,” Ray Ginter, principal of the high school, told the radio station. “We felt that it was a dual problem in that attendance was negatively impacted but it was often the same student. Therefore, that child may have developed a habit that suspension alone would not help.”

Gibson, who will also be conducting research on the results of the program in a separate project, hopes this program will become a model for other schools.

“As more schools in the region go tobacco free, they’re going to need programs like this, and my hope is that we can be a model,” she said.

CLIK is offered through a partnership of the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health, the Kentucky Office of Rural Health and the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science Community Engagement and Research program.

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