$1M given to fight smoking in Sanislaus County

Nearly $1 million in grants over three years will be used to fund anti-smoking education programs through the Stanislaus County Office of Education.

"With more than 90 percent of tobacco users starting the addictive habit before the age of 18, this program aims at the very heart of the issue," said Elizabeth Escalante, who will head the prevention program for the county office. "Youth are being targeted now as much as they ever have and this funding is a key element in keeping future generations out of the tobacco industry's reach."

An anti-tobacco program at the county office Tuesday brought together 130 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to learn the dangers of tobacco use, talk about its use in movies and work on public speaking and presentation skills.

It was the middle grades' version of the Protecting Health and Slamming Tobacco Youth Coalition that has been held for the past five years for high school students. Grant funds allowed the county office and Stanislaus County Health Services Agency to expand the program.

"We will provide a three-tier approach to combating the tobacco industry's manipulative tactics and provide students with the knowledge and skills to enable them to be tobacco free," program coordinator Charmaine Monte said.

The approach includes:

• Students in sixth through ninth grades will receive a science-based curriculum delivered during regularly scheduled classes.

• Students most at risk and current users will receive intervention and cessation services delivered at their campuses.

• A youth development strategy will be implemented to supplement the proposed prevention and intervention program.

The grants also will allow the county office to develop a community group to provide a countywide resource for training and technical assistance in organizing initiatives that prevent tobacco use and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.

Two of the grants, totaling $513,219, are from the California Department of Education and funded by Proposition 99, California's tobacco tax. A third grant is for $450,000 from the California Tobacco Control Program of the California Department of Public Health, also funded by Proposition 99.