Downtown Columbus is looking a little cleaner thanks to the efforts of fourth-grade students from St. Peter’s Lutheran School.
Forty-five of them spent an hour on their hands and knees Monday to pick up cigarette butts, working with Healthy Communities to improve the look of the area. The effort was part of the Great American Smokeout, an American Cancer Society event that encourages people to quit smoking.
The local event, originally planned for Nov. 15, was rescheduled due to that day’s ice storm.
It served as a reminder that smoking is not a healthy habit to pick up, said Kylie Jones, tobacco awareness coordinator with Healthy Communities.
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“We want them to see the beauty around them,” Jones said.
This year marked the second year for the downtown cleanup, but Great American Smokeout activities have been occurring at schools and in the community for more than 20 years, said Beth Morris, director of Community Health Partnerships with Healthy Communities.
Students, who worked in teams of two and were provided gloves and plastic zip-lock bags, immediately went to work along Fourth Street and a nearby alley gathering discarded cigarette butts.
They wore blue pins with a no-smoking decal with the slogan “Help Create a World with Less Cancer and More Birthdays.”
Breanna Hatcher, who has no smokers in her family, she said she wants all people to live a healthy lifestyle.
Breanna, who teamed with classmate Heidy Ortman, said she was glad to do her part in cleaning up the appearance of downtown Columbus.
Heidy said she was surprised at the amount of cigarette butts the students found.
Classmate Zane Gregory said it was important for him to pitch in and beautify the downtown, adding that he was particularly concerned about the effects of secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke kills 49,000 Americans every year and is responsible for 3,000 lung cancer deaths of U.S. non-smokers annually, according to the Quit Now Indiana website.
Fourth-grade teacher Jael Sylva said the experience was a way to help students see the effects of smoking on the environment.
But more importantly, the clean-up was a good way to give back to the community, especially since St. Peter’s emphasizes stewardship.
“This is a good way to do that,” Sylva said.
St. Peter’s students also learned about the effects of smoking on a person’s body during a presentation, when they were shown photos of two pigs’ livers — one affected by smoke and the other from a smoke-free environment, Jones said.
While raising awareness locally of the effects of smoking, Jones also said she hopes Indiana legislators will increase the state’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack as part of a request being made by Tobacco Free Indiana, she said.
“Studies have shown that if you raise the tax, you’re more likely to quit,” Jones said.
Greg Scherschel, a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual, watched the cleanup taking place and commended the students for their work.
However, he said he wished the cleanup wasn’t necessary and took notice of the improvements made by the students, who filled more than two dozen plastic bags with cigarette butts.
“It just looks better,” Scherschel said.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”By the numbers” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
29: Percent of Indiana 12th graders who use nicotine
21.1: Percentage of smokers statewide
11,100: Number of Hoosiers who die prematurely each year from cigarette smoking
900: Number of low-weight births that occur annually in Indiana due to secondhand smoke
Source: Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation