In a recent statewide study commissioned by the New Mexico Department of Health, 34 percent of Roosevelt County high school students admitted they smoked cigarettes — a rate much higher than surrounding counties.
With such high numbers, it was important for Terry Teti, executive director for community resources, to come to Portales High School to help educate Portales youth about the dangers of tobacco use and second-hand smoke.
“The reason that it is important and a priority is because this is the age where (kids) start to experiment,” Teti said. “From junior high and through high school, part of the rite-of-passage is experimenting with all different kinds of types of behavior, activities and risk behavior.”
More details from the statewide study reveal that 60 percent of Roosevelt County teens reported that they have tried smoking, while 21 percent admit to trying cigarettes before the age of 13.
Teti also discussed the dangers of exposing others to cigarette smoke.
“(Smoking) also harms other people,” Teti said. “Second-hand smoke can cause asthma, upper respiratory infections and pneumonia — even in young children. So it’s really important that they learn now what these problems are.”
Many of the high schoolers also made posters urging smokers to quit the habit and Teti said the craft aspect of the lesson plan adds to the education.
“It helps,” Teti said. “It’s an activity. It’s something other than having just me stand here and lecture. But also they think about how they want to present the issue to their peers.”
Teti also said she believes that students are better equipped to convince their peers to quit smoking or to never start.
“I may present it one way, but I’m, like, five generations away from them,” Teti explained. “They present it the way that it would work for them today, in today’s world. That’s one of the reasons that we do this — to raise the dialogue, and raise the general knowledge about it.”
“Anything that can help us have better health (is a good thing),” Portales senior Nick Bliss said. “I know the long-term effects, like cancer and shortness of breath. I see people that play basketball and they can’t breathe because they smoke.”
Thursday marked the 33rd annual Great American Smoke-Out, a day set aside to try to convince smokers to quit by staying away from tobacco use for one day, and Teti explained the generational difference between now and when the effort began.
“Everybody smoked. It was my generation and everybody smoked. That was the beginning of raising consciousness of the dangers of tobacco and second-hand smoke,” Teti said. “The long-term effects of tobacco use can cost them years in their life and quality of life. Those who smoke need to stop and think — how can you quit.”