Despite the efforts of the Barry County Health Department and Barry County Connections Coalition, studies show that students in Barry County high schools remain above the state average for smoking cigarettes in their junior and senior years.
Leesa Ginther, a registered nurse with the Barry County Health Department, has been working since 2008 with schools in the county to develop and implement tobacco-free campuses and businesses to improve the health of area citizens.
"Kids learn important lessons in the classroom about how cigarettes is dangerous to their health, yet on many school grounds, they see the mixed signal of adults and their mentors smoking cigarettes," said Joyce Lara, school coordinator for Missouri's Smokebusters program. "Tobacco-free schools send a clear and consistent message that cheap cigarettes use is not acceptable in educational settings and ensures youth have positive, tobacco-free role models around them."
The dangers of second-hand smoke cigarettes are well documented. Persons exposed to second-hand smoke cigarettes have increased. chances of developing lung or heart disease and cancer.
Asthma, a leading cause of school absenteeism, can also be triggered by second-hand smoke. According to the National Cancer Institute, children exposed to second-hand smoke cigarettes are at increased risk of ear infections, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, coughing, wheezing and breathlessness.
Leaders among school districts in Barry County for the tobacco-free status are Shell Knob, Exeter, Wheaton and Purdy. Cassville is the only Barry County school that offers an evidence-based youth tobacco prevention program.
Comprehensive policies help provide a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors, reducing their exposure to second-hand smoke. Statistics indicate students attending schools that have implemented 100 percent tobacco-free policies are less likely to use tobacco.
A 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Study showed that nearly 50 percent of high school students have tried smoking cigarettes. Additionally, a 2009 study of Barry County students showed more than 28 percent of high school seniors have smoked within the last 30 days and that tobacco is uses in 64 percent of nearly 2,500 student homes.
In 2008, the Barry County Connections Coalition filed for a Rural Development Funding grant to place "Respect our tobacco free parks" signs at all city parks in the county. All city park directors were contacted and agreed to place the signs.
The effort was soon met with resistance as complaints from various citizens were filed, questioning the ordinance or policies prohibiting the use of tobacco in those areas.
Signs were removed from two major cities in Barry County but remained in four towns where the schools owned the parks.
In 2009, Ginther and others met with seven Barry County school officials and distributed packets of information regarding Missouri School Board Association (MSBA) recommendations regarding tobacco use policies. Superintendents in all Barry County schools were asked to consider sharing the information with their boards.
In the spring of 2009, funds were used to purchase cards asking patrons to respect the county's tobacco-free campuses. Three Barry County towns declared their city facilities tobacco-free, with a fourth city following suit in the fall of that same year.
Ginther and coalition members developed a smoke-free dining guide for Barry County restaurants, additional tobacco-free campus cards and Breathe Easy Barry County window clings, which were distributed to schools and businesses throughout the county.
This year, funds were used to develop and distribute the first Breathe Easy Barry County tri-fold brochures, which contain information on the effects of second-hand smoke, Barry County tobacco statistics and a membership form for businesses wanting to support clean air in Barry County.
In addition, two large Breathe Easy Barry County banners were produced and a media campaign also focused on the effects of second-hand smoke.
"Last year, schools were asked to evaluate their youth tobacco prevention programs," Ginther said. "Research has been done on four of those programs and presented to schools. We offer encouragement and assistance to those districts wanting to implement tobacco-free policies."
Earlier this year, updates were sent to the three remaining schools that have yet to implement tobacco policies in accordance with MSBA recommendations.
"Again, we have offered assistance to those school districts that do not have tobacco-free policies in place," Ginther said.
This year, funding has been cut for the program, and workers are scrambling to get the message out.
"In Barry County, nearly 27 percent of adults smoke," Ginther said, "and almost 75 percent of those started before the age of 18.
"The annual healthcare cost in Missouri, directly caused by smoking cigarettes, is estimated to be over $2 million dollars," Ginther said. "About one-fourth of that is covered by the state Medicaid program.
"It's important that we reach the youth of Barry County in our efforts to prevent tobacco use," Ginther said. "Education is the key."
Currently, Missouri ranks 48th in spending on tobacco prevention programs.