Wise County students and the University of Virginia Cancer Center develop tobacco prevention messages

To help break the generational cycle of tobacco use in Southwest Virginia, UVA Cancer Center’s FamHealth (Family-based Health Promotion to Prevent Tobacco Use) is using funds from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY) to support a Tobacco Prevention Club at Coeburn Middle School in Wise County. Since the club began in October 2021, students from UVA Wise have served as peer mentors during the club’s monthly meetings.

Youth tobacco use prevention is critical for the region. In southwest Virginia, tobacco use exceeds the rest of the state. According to the most recent Virginia Youth Survey, high school students in the region smoked at least one cigarette in the past month, twice the statewide average of their peers. Vaping has also soared in popularity in Southwest Virginia, with close to 30% of kids in the region using e-cigarettes or vaping products, compared with the statewide average of 20%.

For Cody Sanders, an Associate Professor of Physical Education at UVA Wise, the program provides an opportunity for UVA Wise students. “At UVA Wise, we are always seeking ways for our college students to learn through real-world opportunities,” said Sanders. “With this project, the undergraduates and middle school students have a chance to learn from one another while making a positive impact in the community.” 

To assist students in learning about tobacco prevention, the peer mentors facilitate activities and conversations about tobacco myths, avoidance, and how to talk to others about the dangers of tobacco. Through these activities, students create messages to discourage tobacco use at home and in their local community.

“I was really excited to get involved with youth, especially on the topic of tobacco. It is so heavily influenced here in the area, and I feel like early prevention starts with our youth,” said UVA Wise student Peter Valadez. “So I feel like getting involved in this project is a great way to provide a first level of prevention.”

Student and Families, Crucial in Developing Health Messages

Students and parents participating in this program serve a crucial role in the community. Kara Wiseman, a UVA Professor of Public Health Sciences, shares the importance of having the students and parents participate in the program.

“Surveys will gather information on tobacco use and feelings from students and families. The results will inform how residents would prefer to receive health information. Learning perceptions about tobacco is critical in developing messages to discourage tobacco use,” said Wiseman. “Tobacco use has changed over time but remains high in Southwest Virginia. Families can play an important role in helping prevent the next generation of tobacco users. We hope that parents and youth from Coeburn Middle School will help support this project by helping us understand how families want support to talk to each other about tobacco.”

If you would like to know more about this program, please contact Brenna Robinson at 276.952.5010 for more information.

About FamHealth

FamHealth is a partnership between the University of Virginia Cancer Center, the Cancer Center Without Walls’ Southwest Virginia Community Advisory Board, Virginia Cooperative Extension, UVA Wise and Coeburn Middle School, supported by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY).

About the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY)

Established in 1999 by the Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth empowers Virginia’s youth to make healthy choices by reducing and preventing youth tobacco and nicotine use, substance use, and childhood obesity.

VFHY takes a comprehensive approach to prevention work that includes reaching about 50,000 children each year through classroom-based prevention programs in public schools, after-school programs, community centers, day cares and prevention programs across the state. VFHY’s award-winning marketing campaigns deliver prevention messaging to more than 500,000 children annually. In addition, VFHY’s research program provides scientific insight on methods to effectively reduce tobacco use. Since 2002, VFHY has funded 40 large research projects at universities throughout Virginia. For more information, visit http://www.vfhy.org.

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