HJ/EDMarch 27, 2006

Teens Against Tobacco Use group forms

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

A group of teens from Dassel-Cokato High School are urging the Dassel City Council to prohibit smoking in its parks and recreational areas.

Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) is a school-based program “dedicated to tobacco and second-hand smoke prevention,” according to a recent press release.

The group is lead by Brooks Helget, a DC health teacher, along with Lisa Hicks-Ewald, a public health education coordinator for Meeker County, and Joel Torkelson from Wright County Public Health.

The Power Point presentation to the Dassel City Council Monday night outlined the group’s goals and action plan, but the council declined making any decisions that evening.

“We will continue to build community support. We have a lot of support for it, we just have to make it visible to the council members,” Hicks-Ewald explained.

“TATU’s goal is to demonstrate to youth that tobacco use is not a part of a healthy lifestyle. We believe that a tobacco-free parks policy in our communities can play a part in reducing youth tobacco use, which will eventually save lives,” student Preston Johnson said at Monday’s council meeting.

Shelly Saksa added, “Cities also can set a norm that tobacco use and second-hand smoke just don’t belong in park and recreation areas where children play and where the community goes to improve their fitness or enjoy nature.”

TATU’s goals include:

• Make a difference in communities.

•Organize tobacco education programs.

• Educate middle school students through a tobacco prevention curriculum.

• Make the community a healthier place to live.

“It’s about young people being exposed to tobacco use and preventing it among them,” Hicks said.

Last October, TATU cleaned up Dassel parks picking up cigarette butts and in November it held a petition drive at the high school for smoke-free parks in Dassel during chemical health week which received 500 signatures from middle school and high school students and teachers.

The policy would prohibit tobacco use on any city-owned park, recreation area, trail, beach, athletic field, playground, and any other open space excluding streets and sidewalks.

TATU’s reasoning for such a policy is to provide an opportunity to change community norms around tobacco use, help reduce youth tobacco use, promote community wellness, policies support local organizations who want to promote healthy lifestyles, and cigarette butts cause litter.

Also, most school districts prohibit tobacco use on their grounds, so on March 16 the school board supported the group’s efforts in making Dassel parks smoke-free.

“...This policy would complement the school district’s existing tobacco-free grounds policy. A city’s tobacco-free parks policy would provide a consistent policy for school-based activities,” according to Superintendent Don Hainlen.

According to TATU, enforcement would be peer enforced and notification would be given to the public before it would go into effect. A similar law is in effect in 75 cities across Minnesota, including Willmar, St. Cloud and Alexandria.

After the information was presented to the council, Mayor Ava Flachmeyer decided to take no action at that time saying, “It’s the people’s right to smoke... where are they supposed to smoke?”

Hicks disagreed, “There is no law protecting the rights of smokers.”

City Administrator Myles McGrath was asked to contact a number of the cities that have adopted the policy and put together a draft of their own and present it at a later date.

TATU is funded through a Tobacco-Free Community Grant given to Meeker County Public Health and was issued by the Minnesota Department of Health.

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