Early adolescence, ages 11 to 15, is the period when most smokers report trying cigarettes for the first time. A majority also said that they were regular smokers before age 18. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every day more than 3,800 youths try their first cigarette.

In Missouri, the Department of Health and Senior Services reports that more than 18 percent of the state’s high school students smoke, putting them in danger of becoming more frequent smokers as adults.

These statistics were the impetus behind a new anti-tobacco campaign in this year’s Building a Healthier Independence Initiative, now in its third year.

We all know the health risks of smoking. Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. And kicking the habit is the largest health improvement a smoker can make. But quitting is difficult, even for an adult. It is even more difficult for youths who may believe smoking allows them to “fit in” with others they admire.

In a Missouri Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in 2011 by the State of Missouri, 43 percent of high school students and 18.3 percent of middle school students reported they had smoked cigarettes. In addition, 49.1 percent of high school students and 22.1 percent of middle school students admitted to using any form of tobacco.

The tobacco industry concentrates much of its marketing efforts on the youth, which compounds the problem. And some movie stars have started to participate in advertising for the now popular e-cigarettes. Our advertising campaign works to counteract that, encouraging parents and others in the community to make a strong stand against youth smoking.

The BHI youth anti-tobacco campaign includes:

n Two large sky banners and table tents placed in the food court at Independence Center August through December.

n Ads on the IndeBus August through January 2014.

n Ads at three billboard locations August through January 2014.

n Youth anti-tobacco campaigns monthly in The Examiner since August.

n Facebook/Twitter postings concerning the campaign.

The campaign includes messages such as:

n Smoking is not attractive - a first kiss leaves a lasting impression

n Your life. Your call. Choose to live smoke free.

n Bad for the environment, bad for you.

n Would you put these things in your mouth? Ammonia, acetone, arsenic, butane, methane, tar, battery acid, pesticides, rocket fuel... the list goes on.

n 1,200 people die every day from tobacco-related disease. Don’t be one of them.

n You don’t smoke. Don’t let someone else do it for you. Ask others not to light up in your home or in your car.

Smoking is a psychological habit as well as a physical addiction that most smokers need support and assistance in efforts to quit. Our youth need even more support and assistance.

If you know someone who smokes encourage them to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help quitting.

For more information contact the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7185 or http://www.ci.independence.mo.us/health.

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.