District Health Department works to curb underage smoking

LAKE COUNTY — District Health Department No.10 is working hard to prevent youth smoking with some new partnerships and a new program in West Michigan.

The health organization is teaming up with the Michigan State Police and the Lakeshore Regional Partners in a new push to prevent underage smoking called "No Cigs for our Kids." It will focus specifically on vendors who illegally sell products like cigarettes to minors.

"We've been involved with tobacco prevention for several years," explained Jen Hansen, the Health Education Supervisor with DHD10. "This year, we've partnered with Lakeshore Regional Partners, a regional coordinator for substance abuse treatment and prevention. This new partnership will be more proactive and more effective."

Throughout the next several months, undercover compliance checks will be undertaken throughout Lake, Oceana and Mason counties. The campaign also will address businesses which sell tobacco products by assisting and educating them.

"Part of it is going out to talk with retailers and part of it is the compliance check we'll be running," said Hansen. "We're getting help from the Michigan State Police who are having underage volunteers go throughout the community and trying to buy tobacco products from vendors who then report the results. One other thing our staff will be doing is going out and talking with them about the law and giving them information. We provide them with tools for training employees and signage to help inform them and discourage underage smoking."

Despite the well-documented problems associated with smoking, DHD10 staff said it is still a serious problem throughout the country, and in Lake County in particular. The problems which can arise from habitual smoking are both numerous and serious.

"Underage smoking can lead to drug use, it will cause health problems and it is all around not good for these kids," said Hansen.

The Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth reported 25 percent of all high school age smokers have tried to quit in the last 12 months and failed. A study of Oceana County reported the average age for first time tobacco use is 12 years old. Additionally, the American Cancer Society reported nine out of 10 adult smokers started before the time they were 18 years old, and preventing more kids from smoking will mean better health, less chronic disease and a more more well adjusted lifestyle.

Hansen said everyone must do their part to prevent underage smoking in the community, and the first step is ensuring they cannot buy it themselves.

For those interested in more information about the program, call Kate Donaldson of DHD10 at (231) 316-8554.