Tobacco-Free Coalition ready for change

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

CORINTH – The four-county Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalition of Alcorn, Prentiss, Tippah and Tishomingo counties will have a new structure after the new fiscal year.
After July 1, the four counties will be split into two groups, with Alcorn and Tippah as one coalition and Prentiss and Tishomingo as a separate entity, said administrator Carolyn Gowen.
“The state Department of Health, our funding source, made the decision as another step toward strengthening the Tobacco-Free Coalition,” Gowen told about two dozen school nurses, health trainers, administrators and others who work with Coalition teams. The group met last week to learn about changes to be implemented after July 1.
Funding for fiscal year 2011 is $152,000, up from $100,000 for the current fiscal year, Gowen said, with the grant awarded to Aiming for Health Families Inc.
The four member counties currently include about 52 teams, each with a minimum of five members, Gowen said, and they want to expand that number.
Mississippi Tobacco-Free Coalitions are grassroots groups funded by the state Health Departments in all 82 counties. They involve young people to reduce tobacco-related disease and death by educating them about the dangers of using tobacco, encouraging communities to pass smoke free ordinances and promoting programs that help people learn to live tobacco-free.
The Belmont Tobacco-Free Coalition is one of the most active groups, with 27 team members.
“I know lots of kids at school who use tobacco and I don’t like it,” said Belmont senior Anna Harris, a coalition member. “We explain the risks involved and try to get them to stop.”
Team members watch videos, work on projects and ask questions to gain as much information as possible to share with others at school.
“At first we invited some students to be on the team, and now we have others asking to be on the team,” said Melody Harris, Anna’s mother and school nurse at Belmont.
With the forthcoming changes Gowen asked current Coalition members to recommend others for advisory committee and board member appointments. Each group must include people who represent the faith-based community, the school-based community, health care, communications or media, law enforcement, elected officials, business, parent and youth.
“I’m excited as we go into our second year because people in the counties like the program,” Gowen said.