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Peer Efforts Contribute to Historic Low in N.C. Teen Smoking Rates

| Date Posted: 8/1/2012

RAEFORD – North Carolina’s teen cigarette-smoking rates have fallen steadily since 2003, reaching a historic low in 2011 as young people continue to pledge to remain tobacco-free.

According to the 2011 N.C. Youth Tobacco Survey, the state’s middle school smoking rate dropped to 4.2 percent in 2011. During the same period, the high school rate dropped to 15.5 percent.

These are the all-time lowest rates for each group, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

A DHHS press release notes an apparent correlation between tobacco prevention efforts and the lowered rates. Since September 2007, the release says, nearly 10,000 North Carolina high school and middle school youths have pledged to stay tobacco-free in an initiative sponsored by the TRU (Tobacco. Reality. Unfiltered.) prevention program.

FirstHealth of the Carolinas supports TRU programs in Hoke, Moore, Montgomery and Richmond counties. 

According to health educator Melissa Kuhn, FirstHealth’s liaison for teen tobacco prevention activities in the area schools, the TRU program works because of a peer-to-peer approach that trains high school students to become role models on “how to say no” for younger students.

“The high school kids are the cool kids,” Kuhn says. “They’re the ones the younger kids want to be like.”

According to Kuhn, young people become interested in tobacco-prevention efforts for a variety of reasons. Some have parents who are tobacco-users while a few have tried tobacco themselves.

“Some are just health-conscious and know it’s bad for you and want to prevent other kids from using tobacco,” says Kuhn.

Gevetta Whittington, a rising senior at Hoke County High, believes the TRU organization has a variety of purposes. “TRU means being productive, living with purpose and providing a positive outlook,” she says.

TRU Club adviser Godzetta Whittington finds it difficult to put TRU’s important meaning into words. “This organization provides people with the knowledge, the materials and the opportunities to make healthy and lifesaving decisions personally and for the betterment of society,” she says.

In addition to their focus on the health consequences of tobacco and second-hand smoke, participants in area TRU programs sometimes become advocates for community tobacco-free efforts and other tobacco-prevention movements. Students at Moore County’s Pinecrest High School have worked with local Parks and Recreation programs to promote tobacco-free parks while students at Union Pines High, also in Moore County, and West Montgomery High in Montgomery County have taken a particular interest in the health hazards of spit tobacco.

Although tobacco-use rates among teens are lower than they have ever been, young people continue to experiment with tobacco products, says Kuhn.

“There’s still a lot of pressure to try (tobacco),” she says. “It’s that whole experimental age, and kids are so vulnerable. There’s always going to be peer pressure and wanting to fit in.”

North Carolina’s original TRU Program was funded by the Health and Wellness Trust Fund (HWTF) with funds from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with major tobacco companies. After the North Carolina General Assembly abolished the fund last year, DHHS funding was relocated for fiscal year 2011-12, but was not set to recur.

FirstHealth of the Carolinas’ teen tobacco-prevention program has been funded by a Teen Tobacco-Use Prevention and Cessation grant since 2001.

For more information on FirstHealth of the Carolinas’ teen tobacco-use prevention programs, contact Melissa Kuhn at

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