A new educational blitz is targeting local high school students and the elevated number of young smokers in Sarnia-Lambton.
Alternate Choices provides increased support and help with quitting, while aiming to discourage early initiation and smoking on school property.
“Kids are taught about the health effects of smoking and other drugs at a young age, but it's the choices they end up making during those critical transitions years of high school that we are focusing on,” said Nadia Butchey, a health promoter with Lambton Public Health.
The initiative is a collaboration of the health unit and St. Clair and Lambton Kent school boards.
Rather than punish students, the program seeks to engage and educate by talking about personal choices and decision-making, Butchey said.
Plans are also in place to launch a number of “quit campaigns” early next year, she said.
Students caught smoking on school property will be dealt with through "open discussion” rather than stern lectures, in hopes of better demonstrating the negative impacts of tobacco use, she said.
"With the support of the schools and the work of public health, we will hopefully see a shift down in smoking rates,” Butchey said.
Ontario is also ramping up efforts to limit tobacco in public spaces with a far-reaching ban that will prohibit smoking on restaurant and bar patios, playgrounds and other outdoor areas.
The ban goes into effect on Jan. 1.
Smoking rates are a major health concern in Sarnia-Lambton, with tobacco use among young adults far exceeding the provincial average.
The rate of smokers between the ages of 20 and 34 stood at 40% in 2011-12, compared to 26% for Ontario, according to Statistics Canada.
“Tobacco use is the single, greatest preventable cause of death in Ontario," said Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton's medical officer of health.
"This program gives youth the tools and the help they need to prevent tobacco addiction and lead longer, healthier lives.”