Riverside Middle School Students at State House

Students from the Riverside Middle School Vermont Kids Against Tobacco (VKAT) group joined each of the 51 VKAT groups from all over the state, to participate in the bi-annual State House Rally in Montpelier on Jan. 27.

The event celebrates youth empowerment and the success throughout 2009 of VKAT programs in reaching more than 21,000 Vermonters with tobacco prevention and education activities.

It was a fun day to visit the statehouse and see so many other people our age supporting no tobacco use.

Thousands of youth have taken part in VKAT since it began in 1995 and Riverside Middle school has had an active group since 2001. These efforts have resulted in consistently lower smoking prevalence rates at schools, with a decline in the smoking rates happens more quickly and earlier in schools with a VKAT presence.

VKAT is a statewide initiative for students in fifth grade through eighth grade, and has grown from 10 to 51 schools over the past 15 years. Participants in VKAT, with help from guidance counselors, student assistance professionals (SAPs), teachers, school nurses and community organizations have worked together to help decrease smoking rates among Vermont's youth.

According to the Health Department's 2009 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, seven percent of eighth graders smoked one or more cigarettes during the past 30 days. Overall, smoking rates for Vermont youth have been cut in half during the past decade.

"The Vermont Kids Against Tobacco members are dedicated to informing their peers about the risks of tobacco use," said Health Commissioner Wendy Davis, MD. "We have to continue to encourage a new generation of Vermonters to make healthier choices, like being smoke-free."

Prior to the group march down Main Street to the State House, VKAT members had breakfast with legislators and listened to a brief presentation by Chittenden Representative Bill Frank and Rebecca Ryan, director of Health Communications & Policy for the American Lung Association.

The VKAT program is sponsored by the Vermont Department of Health, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For more information about VKAT, go to www.goVKAT.org.

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