December 5, 2007 | By: Katie Pratt

Youth from five eastern Kentucky counties discovered how to effectively communicate an anti-tobacco message to their communities during a 4-H Helping Overcome Tobacco in Kentucky (HOT) Conference at Highlands Regional Medical Center. 

Youth from Johnson, Magoffin, Floyd, Martin and Pike counties embarked on the campaign, which will be presented to their schools and communities through a series of posters and public services announcements. The posters will be displayed in the counties’ schools, and the announcements will be played on local radio, television and movie theatres. 

Representatives from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, local media outlets and county health departments educated the teenagers on blocking scenes, voice projection, writing and filming public service announcements.

“They really feel the need to get out and be spokespeople to help prevent younger youth from starting tobacco use,” said Dianna Reed, Johnson County 4-H youth development agent. 

“We’re giving it an effort, which is more than what has been done in the past,” said Damen Hensley, a senior at Sheldon Clark High School. “We’re getting it started and getting people thinking about it, and that’s the No. 1 step.”

Reed said 6,800 teens per year start smoking. It is estimated that 107,000 youths, currently age 18 and under, will eventually die from a smoke related death.

Tobacco use is a problem across the state. Kentucky ranks No. 1 in the nation for tobacco usage. 

“Tobacco is the No. 1 preventable cause of illness in the United States,” said Connie Meek, tobacco prevention and cessation specialist with the Johnson County Health Department. “The only way to stop the tobacco epidemic we’re having is for our youth not to start. That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish with the group of students we have here.” 

Meek said while the state ranks No. 1, it is making slow progress. She said in the Big Sandy Region, the cities of Paintsville and Pikeville have smoke free restaurants and the city of Prestonsburg just instituted a 100 percent tobacco free program in their schools. 

“I guess it’s kind of like a small child, you have to walk before you can run,” she said.

The youth that attended the conference had various backgrounds and talents. Participants were involved in various organizations including academics, athletics, churches and community groups. 

“It’s really an area that affects all youth, and we try to encourage youth from different areas to become involved so it’s a face that everybody sees and everybody feels and everybody is aware of,” Reed said.

The youth all have different reasons for why they chose to participate in the conference and remain tobacco free.

“I have an uncle that smokes, and I want to try to get him to quit,” said Nick Bingham, a Prestonsburg High School junior and treasurer of the Floyd County Teen Council. “I came to this conference to learn some tactics to try to get him to quit.”

Hensley, who is also the starting quarterback for Sheldon Clark, said he doesn’t smoke because he doesn’t want to have a negative effect on younger kids who look up to him. 

Geneva Wallen, a representative from the Martin County Health Department, said she thought the conference opened some of the youth’s eyes to the negative effects of smoking. 
“Kids have a very good attitude about tobacco and they want to see prevention prevail,” she said. “I think they’re going to be ready to fight for the cause.” 

This was the second year for the conference that was first held at Pike Central High School. At that conference, teens were given information on the effects of tobacco which they brought back to their communities and used as a tool when speaking with younger students over the past year.


Heather Nelson, 606-886-2668, Dianna Reed, 606-789-8108, Joe Maynard, 606-298-7742