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Tobacco Use Is Higher in Rural WI

PHOTO: Mike Taake, Mauston Schools
PHOTO: Mike Taake, Mauston Schools
August 21, 2012

MAUSTON, Wis. - Rural youth in Wisconsin are more likely to use tobacco and to start earlier than urban young people, partly because smoking is often more socially acceptable in rural areas. The American Lung Association has a program called NOT - Not On Tobacco - that helps young people kick the habit.

Mike Taake has run the NOT program for Mauston schools for the past five years, with tremendous results.

"We're running at a success rate of totally quitting between 30 and 35 percent, and a reduced amount of cigarettes that they smoke - significantly reduced - about 40 to 45 percent."

The ten-step NOT program is tailored to young people, with different approaches for boys and girls, because they often have different reasons for smoking.

Taake says young people in rural areas often start smoking at an early age.

"I think peer pressure is way overrated and the kids will tell you that, too; they're smoking because they see everybody else smoke. They're experimenting when they're seven or eight years old, nine years old, and they're usually addicted by the time they're a pre-teen, by the time they're 12."

Since it's often the case that their parents smoke, they don't push the kids to quit. This perpetuates the cycle of tobacco addiction.

Taake says he's had youngsters in the program who have come up with all sorts of ways to get their hands on cigarettes, but none more unique than the story of a 15-year-old girl and her six-year-old sister.

"She would take her little sister to the store and the girl would act like she is the mom. And she would have her grocery list out there and get all the groceries, and be attending to her sister like she were her daughter, acting older, thus being able to purchase cigarettes without getting ID'd."

With the NOT program working so well in Mauston, Taake is able to bring in former pupils who are eager to share their stories of success with kids who are new to the program.

The American Lung Association offers help for people of all ages to quit smoking with a number of resources, including the Lung Helpline at 800-LUNG-USA.

See the facts and figures at www.lungwi.org.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI