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02-13-04: Kicking the habit

Mercer and Paulding counties receive $200,000 grant to help curb tobacco use


A group of community leaders in Mercer County are using a recently acquired grant to help local residents kick the tobacco habit forever.
The Mercer County Coalition and a group of officials from Paulding County were jointly awarded $200,000 in November from the Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation (TUPCF).
The six-digit grant is part of a statewide $7 million distribution by TUPCF to prevent and control the use of all types of tobacco. The funds originate from a multi-million dollar settlement several years ago between tobacco manufacturers and various states including Ohio.
The grant received locally is the largest amount ever given to local officials to reduce tobacco use, said coalition leaders Janet White and Mike Gause.
“We plan to target three areas,” explained White, community outreach nurse for Mercer County Community Hospital, Coldwater.
Youth, pregnant women and adults will be the focus of the marketing program. Last year, officials received a $50,000 grant from TUPCF to lay the groundwork for this year’s “implementation phase,” said Gause, executive director at Gateway in Celina.
Local coalition members — there are more than a dozen — hail from a wide variety of local agencies such as the hospital and Gateway, the Mercer County Health Department, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, to name a few.
Keeping kids away from that first puff is a huge mission, they said.
“We’ll be bringing programs into all the school systems including Wright State (University-Lake Campus),” White said.
Gause said one of the first programs implemented this year targeted Mercer County Head Start children and their parents. Letters were sent home to the students’ parents warning them of the dangers of second-hand smoke, he said.
Another program, “Stay Tobacco-Free Athlete Mentorship Program” (STAMP), will be held at Coldwater and Celina schools. High school seniors will be asked to volunteer as role models to talk to fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade classes and promote tobacco-free living.
“The younger kids identify so much better with older students. They’ll teach the youngsters how to handle different situations like peer pressure, teach them the dangers of tobacco and how to avoid getting hooked,” White said.
Getting hooked is easy, experts say. There are 4,000 chemicals, 43 carcinogens and 200 actual poisons in one cigarette, White said.
“And we know the cigarette companies have made cigarettes more addictive over the years. A tobacco addiction is harder to kick than a heroin, marijuana or cocaine addiction,” she said.
Educational information on how to stop smoking and its effects on the unborn child will be distributed in the obstetrics department of Community Hospital and to patients at the Maternal Care program at Community Medical Center in Celina.
Three or four smoking cessation classes, sponsored by the American Lung Association, are being planned this year, including one in April. Details will be announced soon, White said. The coalition also is trying to obtain the services of a hypnotherapist for at least one of the sessions.
Local physicians also will be asked to hand out referral information to their patients who desire to quit smoking, and the local health department also is sponsoring their own programs on the subject, White added.
Billboards, newspaper ads, radio spots and other means of marketing will be used as funds allow, the pair noted.
Quitting smoking isn’t easy and typically takes six or eight tries before success is reached, White said, adding “People really need to know that.”
Coalition members were motivated in their cause recently by a speaker at one of their meetings. Andy Lauer, an employee from Allen County Juvenile Court in Lima, spoke about his experience with squamous cancer, better known as cancer of the mouth.
“His face is very deformed, one-third of his jaw had to be removed. He was a 29-year smoker and chewer (chewing tobacco) and quit in 1995,” White said.
Five years after Lauer kicked the habit, his oral dentist found signs of cancer under his tongue, she said. Lauer underwent surgery to remove 73 lymph nodes and later a multitude of treatments that left him barely able to swallow food.
“He told us, ‘Tobacco will take your money, your looks and your lives,’ ” Gause said.
Lauer is a member of the coalition and will be a guest speaker at area schools, Gause added.
Gause and White are excited about the coalition’s goals and the variety of talent and background of the people who will help educate local residents on the perils of smoking.
“What’s nice about all the different types of people we have involved is we can target a wide area and get the message out to everyone,” Gause said. “We hope it will have a rippling effect.”


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