McHenry aims tobacco settlement at prevention
The McHenry County Department of Health will start four smoking prevention programs this year with funds from the tobacco settlement.
The department received $186,620 as its share of the state's settlement with the tobacco companies. Health department employees had the choice of 25 programs to use the funds for, all of which were prevention oriented, Director Bob Murray said.
Murray said the department chose to focus primarily on preventing the county's youth from smoking.
Presently, program coordinator Karen Ciesielczyk estimated, as many as 1,410 McHenry County residents under age 18 start smoking each year. She said the department is hoping to cut into that number with its four new programs.
"We wanted to prevent youth from starting to smoke," she said. "If we can keep them smoke free until they're 18, then we have a pretty good shot of keeping them smoke free."
The first program is called "Smoke Free, That's Me." It uses interactive techniques to educate children about the effects of tobacco and the importance of healthy lungs.
The department plans to target second, fourth and sixth graders with the program. Ciesielczyk estimates during the first year of the program, 5,000 students will participate.
The second program - Samantha the Magenta Skunk - will reach about 2,500 students, she said. Through the program, which targets students ages 5 to 7, a costumed skunk character visits the schools talking about why smoking stinks.
Ciesielczyk is hoping young children will immediately associate Samantha with the thought that smoking is bad.
"My fantasy would be the children in McHenry County would come to know and recognize Samantha," she said.
In the third program, the department will project anti-smoking messages onscreen during movie previews at the Lake in the Hills Theater.
Ciesielczyk estimates the movie theater campaign will reach 49,140 people through the theater's 12 screens.
The fourth program is one that recognizes restaurants that are smoke-free.
Presently, Ciesielczyk said, 62 of the county's 622 restaurants are smoke-free. The department plans to have a listing of those restaurants put together for patrons.
The department also will use some of the funds to hire part-time employees to implement the programs, Murray said.