On Wednesday, students from the Students Working Against Tobacco clubs at Hendersonville and North Henderson high schools assembled a scrapbook of the past three years. The club may look different next year, after funding for Henderson County schools’ tobacco prevention programs was from the General Assembly’s budget.
“It’s small costs (to run the program), but I question the success without the funding, but not because the kids aren’t dedicated,” said Tracy Stevens, the county’s tobacco prevention coordinator. On June 30, Stevens will be out of a job she’s worked for the past five years.
High school students participating in the program speak to elementary school classes about the dangers of tobacco use. Program funding also helps bring speakers into the schools. Kristy Andrews, whose husband, Justin, died from lung cancer at age 30, shared her moving story in February.
In 2011-12, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services spent $17.3 million on tobacco prevention programs. Currently, North Carolina has the lowest teen smoking rate in its history, according to the N.C. Alliance for Health. The high school smoking rate dropped from 27.3 percent in 2003 to 16.7 percent in 2012. For middle school students, the rate dropped from 9.3 percent to 4.3 percent.
“I hate it because I think it’s a program that works. I think it’s a disservice to the students of the community,” Stevens said, adding that she had students who joined the SWAT club in high school because they heard the talks in fifth grade.
“I use this club as my service club because I feel this club is able to connect with people one-on-one,” said Shelby Caruso, a junior at Hendersonville High. “I actually see I’m helping students and educating them on not using tobacco.”