While most high school kids are interested in a tattoo as an expressive form of body art, West Virginia University School of Nursing students Sarah Gandee and Alison Barrington challenged Preston County students to think differently and see it as a way to prevent tobacco use.

The two nursing students spent a semester forming a local TATU (Teens Against Tobacco Use) chapter at Preston High School and were selected to receive the 2002 West Virginia Rural Health EDUCATION Program Outstanding Community Service Award for their efforts.

Gandee and Barrington implemented the TATU program as part of their experiential rural rotation with Preston County school nurse Brandy Chandler. All WVU nursing students are required to complete a 12-week rural community health rotation during their senior year. West Virginia Rural Health Education Partnership (WVRHEP) programs community-based training sites around the state provide students with an opportunity to learn health-care skills while practicing with rural health providers. The goal is to introduce students to the rewards and challenges or rural practice and increase the possibility that these students will stay in West Virginia after graduation.

Although Gandee and Barrington considered several other possible project ideas, the prevalence of tobacco use in rural areas like Preston County was an issue they felt needed attention.

“We know tobacco use is a huge issue in West Virginia counties,”said Gandee, who is a native of Ripley.”We also know that a lot of kids start using tobacco as a result of peer pressure. I remember what peer pressure can be like at that age. Thats why we started thinking about what could be achieved if kids got involved in spreading the word against tobacco use.”

The TATU program is sponsored by the American Lung Association and utilizes a peer-teaching model to educate young people about tobacco use and become advocates for tobacco-free communities.

“We started with a survey to access the amount of tobacco use among Preston High students,”said Barrington.”The survey showed high use so we implemented the club and began meeting each Wednesday.”

Student participation practically doubled by the end of the semester with students from various peer groups taking part.

“It was great,”said Barrington, who is from Athens, Ohio.”We had the jocks, we had the smart kids, we had kids from all the various social groups which increased our ability to influence their peers.”

The groups activities included traveling to Preston County elementary schools to talk about the risks of tobacco use, sponsoring essay contests and an anti-tobacco contest, writing an anti-tobacco radio announcement that fifth-graders read on the air, and manning an information booth during the Great American Smoke Out. The group also attended a Kingwood City Council meeting to show support for an ordinance to ban smoking in public places.

The WVRHEP Community Service Award recognizes students who have developed and implemented a community-based student project that targets a health issue in a community and improves the quality of life for the residents there. Gandee and Barrington were presented the award at the School of Nursing Celebration of Scholarship event on April 3.