The Coconino County Department of Health Services Tobacco Use Prevention Project has been providing both tobacco education and prevention services to its community over the past two and a half years, with the goal of reducing tobacco use among youth and pregnant women and their partners.
The focus of the county's tobacco prevention efforts is a successful High School Anti-Tobacco Peer Education Program. The goal of this program is to provide information to young students about the dangers associated with tobacco and to reinforce the Peer Educator's choice to be tobacco-free.
When the program began, adult staff trained both middle school and high school student volunteer to be peer educators and to give presentations about the negative effects of tobacco to third, fifth and sixth grade students in 12 elementary schools throughout the Flagstaff community. At the trainings, peer educators receive background information on tobacco and current tobacco issues, guidelines on how to be a good leader, how to maintain class control and tips on public speaking. They spend a majority of time familiarizing themselves with the tobacco lesson. The lessons include information on short and long term effects of tobacco use, the different types and forms of tobacco, issues surrounding second hand smoke, knowledge of the chemicals in cigarettes, refusal skills and how the tobacco industry targets youth through advertising.
In 1997, the program was so successful that a change in the program was made to include those students who were interested in taking the program one step further. A Peer Education Trainer program was established where staff would train selected students to train their peers to be the peer educators. To be considered as a Peer Education trainer, students were required to submit an application form, a written essay on why they wanted to be a Peer Education Trainer and three letters of reference.
Students complete a pre-survey prior to seeing the presentations given by the Peer Educators and a post-survey is given at the end of the year to determine if the program is effective and to measure the amount of impact.
Students teach in teams of two and go into each classroom and make a total of three interventions per year. They offer themselves as resources to the youth during the presentations and several of them have become peer mediators at their respective schools as a result of their involvement with this program.