According to data extracted from the Illinois Youth Survey, smoking rates at Wilmington and Reed Custer Township high schools are nearly double the rates found at other Will County schools. Fortunately, Health Department Program Manager Cindy Jackson knows RI has what it takes to reduce local teen tobacco use.
“We were understandably concerned when we looked at Southern Will County’s teen smoking rates,” explained Jackson, who oversees Will County’s Tobacco Control and Prevention Initiative. “The Health Department is committed to reducing teen smoking rates, and RI has proven to be an effective tobacco fighter. Work is underway to reverse local smoking trends.”
Reality Illinois is a tobacco prevention initiative which advocates for tobacco-free public places. The teen group was credited with playing a key role in the passage of a Wilmington city ordinance which made most city parks 100 percent tobacco free. The ordinance became law Dec. 15, 2015.
Tobacco Control coordinated teen focus groups in Wilmington and Braidwood to help clarify issues surrounding tobacco use perceptions. The results promoted RI into action.
“The focus groups demonstrated that peer pressure was playing a role in tobacco usage,” Jackson said. “In large part, students were beginning to smoke because the perception was that most teens smoke! RI has been working for months to change that perception.”
The RI groups created a social norms campaign utilizing anti-tobacco themes conveyed by posters, social media posts, screen savers and on-screen advertising. The campaign stresses that approximately 75 percent of students at Wilmington and Reed Custer don’t smoke. By reinforcing the truth, the county hopes more students will embrace the tobacco-free message.
Similar social norms campaigns have been successful in multiple communities. The Health Department plans to evaluate the impact of the Southern Will County project beginning in April.
For more information about Will County Tobacco Control and Prevention and the Reality Illinois Social Norms project, telephone 815-774-4482.