CRESTVIEW — This week was the Florida Department of Health’s Tobacco Free Florida Week.
The annual awareness campaign started April 2 and ends tomorrow. It's focused on the theme of achieving health equity.
This year’s campaign aims to bring awareness to higher smoking rates in certain populations, such as low-income individuals, the LGBT community, people with mental health issues and racial and ethnic minorities.
Carissa Hickok is the Okaloosa County Health Department’s program manager for school health and tobacco.
“We’ve made great strides in Florida, just amazing things that have happened so far since Tobacco Free Florida has started,” Hickok said. “But there are still opportunities for improvement, and we’ve still got a ways to go since we’re not at our goals yet.”
Hickok said pregnant women in Okaloosa County smoke twice as much as the average pregnant woman in Florida. In Okaloosa County, that rate is 11.7 percent versus 5.7 percent for the state.
Okaloosa County as a whole has a 17.35 percent smoking rate, nearly two percentage points higher than the overall rate for the state.
The health department is working with the state to get a better view of the landscape of tobacco advertising and sales across the county. Hickok said they’ve found that retail stores in low-income areas tend to have far more tobacco advertising.
The statewide campaign is also launching new TV ads promoting free tools to help Floridians quit smoking.
Students at area schools are participating in events as part of Tobacco Free Florida Week. SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) clubs consisting of middle and high school students are raising awareness on their campuses through lunchroom events and posting flyers.
There were also student-organized events at Northwest Florida State College during the week. The Tobacco-Free Task Force is working to make NWFSC a tobacco-free campus.
Hickok praised the student-led movement and the work they’ve done in the community.
“They’ve worked with city councils to get proclamations signed, resolutions signed. They’ve helped us work with multi-unit housing, trying to adopt policies there. The youth have an amazing voice and an amazing passion for this.”
For more information on Tobacco Free Florida or Quit Your Way services, visit www.tobaccofreeflorida.com.