“Tobacco and sports don’t mix,” says Tobacco-Free Maine. By emphasizing the negative health effects tobacco has on competitive athletes, Tobacco-Free Sports campaigns can be especially effective within athletics programs. With the majority of adult smokers trying their first cigarettes before turning 18, more youth-targeted campaigns are key to reducing adult smoking rates.
Coach’s Manual and Playbooks
Maine, the nation’s top funder of tobacco prevention programs, has already seen success as an increasing number of youth in Maine have never tried a cigarette and do not think they will be smoking in five years, according to Tobacco-Free Maine.
Tobacco-Free Maine has developed a coach’s manual to guide team discussions about healthy choices. The manual includes smoking and secondhand smoke facts, talking points on the health effects of tobacco and smokeless tobacco, advice on policy development, parent messages and a tobacco-free pledge for players and coaches to sign.
In Louisiana, the Department of Health and Hospitals’ Tobacco Control program created a similar Tobacco-Free Sports Playbook to guide coaches and leaders in promoting the message to young athletes.
The CDC’s nationwide initiative, Tobacco-Free Sports, developed online guides such as the Smoke-Free Soccer: Coach’s Manual and the Tobacco-Free Sports Playbook to show how sports can be used as an opportunity to reach young people and provide them healthy alternatives to tobacco use.
The Sports Medicine for Athletes and Recreational Teams (S.M.A.R.T.) physicals event held by the University of South Carolina and Delta Dental of South Carolina pairs free athlete physicals with a tobacco-free messaging program. Teens learn about these harmful effects and are encouraged to sign a tobacco-free pledge, promising to avoid tobacco and advocate non-smoking, tobacco-free lifestyle choices among peers and friends. This year, of the 1,440 students who attended, 1,392 signed pledges, said Jeffrey Guy, M.D., assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the USC School Medicine.
Milwaukee’s Tobacco-Free Sports program engages youth directly through teen presenters who deliver mini-sessions and educational outreach messages to children in first through sixth grade. PBS created a “Kickin’ Butts” video and discussion guide using professional soccer players to highlight the dangers of smoking and smokeless tobacco and how to avoid tobacco use. By involving different role models including coaches, professional athletes, teens and peers, tobacco-free messaging is reinforced at multiple levels and has a stronger impact.
Start A Conversation
The American Cancer Society’s yearly Great American Smokeout will be held in the autumn. The event, which encourages smokers to quit, is a great opportunity to initiate conversations with teens about the health effects and consequences of smoking.
For those seeking additional resources, The Office of Adolescent Health has facts and tips for talking about tobacco use. For teens, Smokefree Teen offers information and support online, through text or by phone to help teens take control of their lives.