Program combats high tobacco use rates among county youth

By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer

When the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout takes place on Thursday, much attention will be paid to helping people with a bad habit try to quit.

In Roosevelt County, Theresa Teti is trying to reach out to those who aren’t quite set in their ways.

Teti is the program coordinator for the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program, and she works with 160 students at six area schools: Portales High, Portales Junior High, Lindsey Elementary and students in the towns of Dora, Elida and Floyd.

Teti was busy Monday in Elida with seventh-graders, trying to prepare an anti-smoking skit. Though the students were all of 12 or 13 years old, Teti insisted that was exactly the right kind of age group for her campaign.

“Actually, it’s the kids who have the problem. In Roosevelt County, we have one of the highest tobacco use rates among teens in the state,” Teti said, citing the 2007 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey as proof.

She said 34 percent of the county’s high school students reported having tried smoking within the 30-day period preceding that survey. Teti also reported that 17.8 percent of high school students also used chewing tobacco.

“We are considerably higher than the rest of the state in both of those and incredibly higher than the nation’s averages,” Teti said.

In order to get the attention of her young audience, Teti has turned toward showing physical consequences of using tobacco products — through photos demonstrating damaged organs in the body.

Teti said she meets with the students participating in TUPAC at least twice a month. As part of this week’s “Smokeout” event, Portales High members will be interviewed for a show on KENW and a group from Dora High School will present a panel discussion for an ENMU freshman seminar class about the history of tobacco use.

The Elida group of seventh-graders will be presenting their skit to younger students.

“So they won’t smoke when they get old,” Elida student Kellie Yager said.

“At my old school near Albuquerque, there used to be kids passing out drugs all the time,” said Kayla Summers, Yager’s classmate, who thought that kind of activity was much less at her current school.

But Teti said farming and ranching lifestyles carry their own burdens.

“Because this is an agricultural community, many of the boys do use chew and some of the girls do,” Teti said. “I have a couple of girls in Dora who were experimenting with it, but they no longer use it. Several of the boys who started in the coalition a few years ago have also gotten completely off it.”