ST. GEORGE — Youth in St. George spent their Wednesday afternoon putting up 77 no smoking signs at bus stops across the city.
The 77 signs were part of a months-long initiative to reduce second-hand smoke exposure at bus stops on the SunTran system. Wednesday's installation was the second part of the Washington County Youth Coalition's project that put up 33 signs a few months ago at priority stops - those near schools and parks as well as the busier stops in the system.
“Second hand smoke kills 53,000 Americans a year, and we’re concerned about that," said Paola Guerra, WCYC High School Executive. "Our goal is to make our community a better place, and I knew that this project would help our community and all of our kids; and the people who take the bus and who don’t want to be around second-hand smoke.”
WCYC was formed about four years ago as the youth branch of the Washington County Prevention Coalition. The youth coalition focuses on addressing substance abuse in Washington County using research and carrying out projects like this. Overall, said WCYC advisor and licensed drug prevention specialist Logan Reid, the high school and middle school kids want to make their community a better place.
“I have a lot of friends that use drugs, and I see the bad effects of substances," said Sariah Tofoya, 17, WCYC High School Executive. "I see how it has altered peoples lives and I want to prevent that in future generations.”
"This is something we find to be the case with prevention: Youth have a way of being heard when the adults can't be."
The coalition uses strategic prevention framework to decide on, design and carry out public health initiatives and projects. The no smoking signs were the result of research, coordinating with the city, fundraising and strategy.
“This group of kids is not a disorganized group. We provide them with a lot of training,” Reid said.
The project was taken up by the youth after the adult coalition had failed to educate residents about a city ordinance that prohibited smoking at a bus stop. Informed by research conducted by the health department, the youth knew that their approach needed to be two pronged: reduce the exposure of people – especially children – to second-hand smoke and educate smokers about the ordinance.
“This is something we find to be the case with prevention: Youth have a way of being heard when the adults can’t be,” Reid said.
WCYC approached city managers about the signage, saying they would raise the money and order and put up the signs.
“They essentially said, we’ll do all the work if you’ll just give us the permission to do it,” Reid said.
The city gave them permission to put up the first 33 signs. Because of their limited stock, the teens rode the SunTran buses, identifying stops that were busy or near schools and parks. They then posted signs at stops that met those requirements. Each sign has information about the ordinance and contact information for Utah Quit Line and QuitNet.
“We had data from the Health Department and Police Department that showed that a lot of people were complaining about smoke at the bus stops, and we wanted to change that," said Scott Tew, 17, Washington County Youth Coalition President. "This project seemed like a good way to let people know about the ordinance and tell them about quitting options at the same time.”
A few months after the initial installation, St. George Police Department approached the youth coalition about putting signs up at all bus stops, Reid said.
“They said, ‘This has been great, we’ve had great feedback on it. But it’s very difficult for us to enforce the ordinance when it’s only displayed at some bus stops. In order for us to really address this, we need to have it known at all the bus stops.’ ” Reid said. “It was difficult for them to address it when people don’t know they’re not allowed to smoke there.”
The youth partnered with SunTran to finance the project, which provided about half the funds for the 77 signs.
“We really did appreciate having the youth spearhead that project and really wanted to follow through with that on them,” said Fred Davies, manager of SunTran.
He said it will make a big difference for customers who have sensitivity to cigarette smoke. Davies said police will begin enforcing the ordinance Thursday.
“I think it’s been a great example of ways youth can make a difference in the community,” Reid said.