Youth Tobacco Prevention

Teaching at the Crosby Scholars’ summer camp, Marissa Dancy takes students through the Right Decisions, Right Now: Be Tobacco Free program.

Getting the message out

The Crosby Scholars Program in Winston-Salem has added a youth tobacco prevention component to its student education efforts, thanks to new sponsorship by the Reynolds American Foundation.

The Foundation has sponsored the Crosby Scholars Program for many years, but in 2012 they decided to join forces to increase awareness and understanding about the problem of youth tobacco use, particularly smoking. The Foundation awarded Crosby Scholars a $250,000 grant to be paid over five years, and $125,000 of that money is being used for free summer workshops that incorporate Reynolds’ long-established Right Decisions Right Now: Be Tobacco Free (RDRN) program.

“The initiative is part of a commitment by Reynolds American and its operating companies to accelerate the decline in youth tobacco use, a central element of the company’s long-term Transforming Tobacco strategy,” said Alan Caldwell, RAI’s director of corporate and civic engagement and the Foundation’s executive director.

The RDRN program is now the focus of three week-long summer camps serving about 150 students a year. “The materials are very relevant to them and we believe we can have a great impact,” said Mona Lovett, executive director of the Crosby Scholars Program.

An “eye-opening” experience

“I knew you shouldn’t smoke, but I didn’t know the consequences were so tremendous,” said one of the participants, Nia, 14. “It was eye opening.”

Marianne, 15, described the workshop as hands-on and well organized. “I thought it was very engaging for the students, so we didn’t have to just sit there and get bored.”

Ann Bell, whose daughter, Jessica, 14, participated in the camp, had nothing but praise for the RDRN focus. “I’m so glad she did this, and I’d love to see it available to more kids her age,” Bell said.

Bell said that Jessica gained skills that she can carry over to other areas of her life, especially on how to deal with peer pressure. “The information from the youth tobacco prevention program will definitely make her stronger and I think she will champion the cause with her friends.”

That’s exactly what the RDRN program hopes to achieve, Caldwell said. The RDRN program was launched in 1991 and has been continually refined since then. RDRN was tested nationally and found to be successful on two key measures: Recent smoking levels decreased significantly in test schools, particularly for grades 8 and 9, and the program’s teachings lowered anticipated tobacco use among middle school-aged students. In addition, students' susceptibility to peer pressure and their perception of the popularity of tobacco-using peers showed significant declines versus control groups.

The Crosby Scholars Program has also demonstrated its positive impact over the years. The college access program grew out of the Crosby National Celebrity Golf Tournament, a fund raiser for charities throughout the U.S. and beyond. In 1992, with the support of local leaders and company sponsorship, the effort morphed into a program to help students graduate from high school and prepare for and enroll in college. Children are given the tools, including financial resources, to succeed in their pursuit of a college education that would allow them to prepare for the jobs of the future.

By 2015, the Crosby Scholars from grades 6 to 12 are expected to number10,000, or nearly half of the school district’s student population in those grades. And 100 percent of the seniors in the program will graduate from high school, with 98 percent enrolling in college.

The students participating in the Crosby Scholars Program camps will be surveyed each summer to assess their tobacco use through the 10th grade. As an added bonus, students who receive certification for completion of the course are eligible to apply for Reynolds American Foundation scholarships, beginning with the class of 2015.

The RDRN program is also having an impact with other organizations. Big Brothers, Big Sisters Services Inc. in Winston-Salem has been using the RDRN materials at its summer workshops to great success since 2011, and together with the Foundation, it is exploring the possibility of extending the workshops to youth involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies across North Carolina. "Eventually, we hope the RDRN curriculum could be taken to about 500 of the organization's affiliated agencies nationwide," Caldwell said.

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