The appearance of downtown Columbus is looking up, thanks to elementary students – on their hands and knees – who were picking up discarded cigarette butts during the Great American Smokeout.

Sixteen students from St. Peter’s Lutheran School worked with the Healthy Communities organization to improve the street-level looks of Fourth Street on Thursday.

The American Cancer Society’s Smokeout event encourages people to quit smoking in order to live a healthier life.

Earlier in the week, the St. Peter’s students learned about the dangers of smoking and the effects it can have on a person’s body, said Kylie Jones, tobacco awareness coordinator with Healthy Communities.

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The effort to rid the area of discarded cigarette butts was also meant to improve the environment, she said.

“We’re just doing it to show them it’s a very nasty habit,” Jones said.

Students pitch in

The students, who were provided gloves and plastic zip-lock bags, wore shirts depicting a no-smoking decal with the slogan, “Help Create a World with Less Cancer and More Birthdays.”

St. Peter’s sixth-grade student Eli Davis — who participated in the street, sidewalk and alleyway cleanup — said it was an effort on his part to help beautify the downtown area.

“If you’re visiting, you don’t want to see a ton of cigarette butts, you want to see a clean street,” Davis said. “Most people in my family smoke and I just want to encourage them to quit so they can live a longer life and I can live a longer life, too.”

The effects of smoking on a person’s lungs was an eye-opening experience when pictures were shown in presentations for St. Peter’s classes, said Sidonie Dupuis, another St. Peter’s sixth-grader, whose small plastic bag was more than half full of cigarette butts.

Dupuis also said while she realizes smoking is hard to stop, she hopes people will consider the benefits it would have on a person’s life and others around them.

“I want to live a longer life and I don’t want to have cancer,” she said.

Jones said smoking remains a problem in Indiana, which has among the top 12 high smoking rates in the United States.

More than 1 million Indiana adults smoke, contributing to the state’s smoking rate of 21.1 percent. Indiana’s rate of smokers is four percentage points higher than the median U.S. rate of 17.1 percent, according to the 2016 Indiana Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

“Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in Indiana,” said Kris Box, state health commissioner. “Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and it can add years to your life.”

School presentations

Substance-abuse education also was a focus for 60 high school students from Columbus East and Columbus North, who went to area elementary schools to convey the dangers of tobacco, opioids and prescription drugs to fifth-graders on Thursday.

Among many groups, Columbus North students Floyd Athaide, Graham Keele and Nicholas Stevens shared their presentation with Parkside Elementary School students.

The appearance of a woman who had used methamphetamine was illustrated to students through photos, which showed her transformation over a nine-year period beginning at age 28. Pictures were shown of the woman, who died at age 38, and effects that meth had on her hair and skin appearance.

“A lot of people are unaware of the consequences, so we want to educate them so they know what they’re getting into,” said Keele, a North sophomore.

Indiana smoking statistics

In 2016, 28.9 percent of Indiana high school students had ever tried smoking cigarettes, a decrease from 65.3 percent in 2000. Also in 2016, 8.7 percent of Indiana high school students were current smokers.

The percentage of high school smokers who frequently smoke dropped from 54.3 percent in 2000 to 28.4 percent in 2016.

An estimated 3,700 Indiana youths become new daily smokers each year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Twenty-three percent of adults smoke in Bartholomew County.

Sources: Indiana Tobacco Quitline, Indiana State Department of Health

Facts about smoking

Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure.

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Smoking also increases the risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Smoking is also a known cause of erectile dysfunction in males.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

Resources to help stop smoking

For information to help stop smoking, visit the Indiana Tobacco Quitline at in.gov/quitline/ or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com