Pitt County's Success Story: Making Tobacco Belt Schools Tobacco Free
Pitt County is in the heart of Eastern North Carolina and has historically been the number one tobacco producer in the state. However, the Pitt County Board of Education took a strong step toward protecting its youth from the harmful effects of tobacco use on April 24th 2006, voting to make their district the 71st in North Carolina to be 100% tobacco-free.
“I think there was an acknowledgement that even though tobacco money had done a lot in Pitt County, you probably wouldn’t find one farmer who wanted his kids to smoke cigarettes,” said Mary Grace Bright, a member of the Board of Education who advocated for the 100% Tobacco-Free Schools policy. She also said the influence of the medical community, which is one of the fastest growing employment sectors in Pitt County, helped sway the vote towards banning the use of tobacco anywhere, anytime, by anyone on school campuses.
Betsy Leech, the policy chair for the Board, agreed that presentations made by representatives from the medical community during a board meeting helped convince board members that making Pitt County schools 100% tobacco-free was the right thing to do. “University Health Systems is going smoke-free May 31st, the malls have both gone smoke-free in the last 3 years, we’ve seen it happen, we’ve seen how it’s evolved, what the responses have been,” said Bright. Both members said student presentations by the Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) were of particular importance in Pitt County.
Board members initially had concerns about the feasibility of adopting a 100% TFS policy. “In Pitt County, as with other rural areas where tobacco farming is prevalent, one of the first reactions is to wonder whether this would fly in this county,” said Leech. “But as it turned out, I anticipated more resistance than we actually received.”
The 100% TFS policy goes into effect in Pitt County on January 1, 2007. Board members agreed that resources provided by the NC Health and Wellness Trust Fund and the Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch were helpful in adopting the 100% TFS policy. Now that it has passed, Pitt County will continue to rely on compliance-related resources found on www.TobaccoFreeSchoolsNC.com.