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Taylor County Middle School students are sending a message to their peers: "Smoking isn't cool."
Students in and around the Lake Cumberland region are spreading the news about the dangers of tobacco use through public service announcements they recorded earlier this month while at a regional tobacco conference in Somerset.
The Center for Rural Development partnered with 16 sponsors to bring the conference, part of a statewide movement called HOT - Helping Overcome Tobacco - to this region of the state.
HOT encourages teens to become activists in the fight to reduce tobacco use. Kentucky is one of the leading states in the nation for tobacco use in both adults and teens. Each day, about 4,000 teen-agers between the ages of 12 and 17, smoke a cigarette for the first time, according to information released by the National Center for Chronic Disease and Prevention.
"The goal of the conference is to educate and energize students so they will take that energy back to their communities and make a change at the local level," said Amy Tomlinson, health services coordinator for Lake Cumberland District Health Department, a program sponsor.
Recording a 30-second PSA is one way students can get the message out to their schools, homes and communities, Tomlinson said. "When (students) leave the conference, they will have a packaged promotion to take back to their home communities."
About 100 middle and high school students from 11 Kentucky counties came prepared with script in hand to produce their own PSA. However, before they could get down to business, students received some tips from the professionals.
Radio personality Charlie Napier, former television anchor Chastity Gayheart and Steve Cleberg, professor of humanities and fine arts at Somerset Community College, worked with students on how to effectively communicate their message. Students attended one of three 45-minute instructional sessions. In the exhibition hall, everyone got a pep talk from Ronne Nunley, tobacco prevention enhancement site manager at the Alert Regional Prevention Center in Ashland, on Tobacco Facts 101 before heading off to The Center's production studio to record their PSAs.
Students attended from Taylor County Middle School, Green County High School, North and South Laurel high schools, Clinton County middle and high schools, Adair County High School, Rockcastle County High School, McCreary County High School, Monticello Middle and High School, Russell County High School, Somerset High School, Pulaski County High School, Southern Middle School and Southwestern High School.
The conference, which took place Thursday, Jan. 17, was sponsored by Alert Regional Prevention Center, Lake Cumberland District Health Department, Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, Kentucky Cancer Program, Laurel County Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention, Laurel County UNITE coalition, Pulaski County Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention, Somerset High School Youth Services Center, Rockcastle County Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention, Adanta Regional Prevention Center, McCreary County UNITE, The Center for Rural Development, Shaffer's Catering, Live FISH, Taylor County and Wayne County agencies for substance abuse prevention.