By Cyndi Alte

A recent survey of pastors in 80 denominations indicates that Congregational Health Ministry is not only a viable ministry; it is a significant life-changing ministry in congregations which host them.

Acording to Dr. Ana Maria Catanzaro, chief researcher of the study, "Because of the long-term, trusting relationships that exist between congregants and those who minister to them, communities of faith may be ideally suited to provide cost-effective, holistic, health-related care to community-dwelling seniors and persons with chronic illnesses, as well as health promotion and disease prevention services to people of all ages."

Her findings echo the mission of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries Health and Welfare Ministries: "Local churches can help address the need for more appropriate and accessible health care services. More importantly, the church can bring a holistic perspective to a community's understanding of health: One that integrates body, mind, and spirit in congregations and communities, promoting prevention and wellness. The church, therefore, is a strategic place where all elements of health and healing can be discussed."

There are many areas for discussion in our churches. One immediate area affects young people for their entire lifetime: the increasing number of teenagers who smoke cigarettes. Indiana is second in the nation in teenage smokers, second only to Kentucky. Five percent of sixth-graders smoke, increasing to 10 percent by eighth grade. By ninth grade, 19 percent of students smoke and by twelfth grade the percentage rises to 26 percent. In Indiana, women in the 18 to 24 age group have the highest proportion of smokers at 37 percent.

Tobacco companies are targeting teenage girls with advertisements, vouchers and sales campaigns. Not only do tobacco companies aim their advertising at magazines teenagers read, many companies are mailing directly to teenagers in their homes with coupons and other subtle incentives to start smoking. Most alarming is that tobacco companies' promotion claims cigarette smoking will prevent weight gain and even promote weight loss.

Camel recently introduced a new brand No. 9, which is boxed in an attractive hot pink package, complete with a romance song and flowers surrounding the container. The New York Times estimates between $25 million and $50 million was spent on introducing No. 9 to young women. Among the tactics employed by R.J. Reynolds are spa parties where hundreds of dollars of free merchandise are given to young women at the event designed to encourage teenagers and women in their early 20s to smoke. Indianapolis has been host to at least two of these parties, which conclude by giving the attendees dollar coupons for their next pack of hot pink cigarettes.

At a recent Women of Influence meeting, nine suggestions were shared to help teenagers stop smoking. I pass these along to you so Hoosier United Methodists will be proactive in decreasing the number of teens who smoke. These suggestions can be used as bulletin inserts and in newsletters, posted in Sunday school rooms and rest room walls, encouraged as a way of being healthy and caring for our young members.

  1. Contact your state legislators thanking them for the 44¢ increase in the state cigarette tax to support the Healthy Indiana Plan. Indiana's current cigarette tax 55.5¢ compared to the national average of $1.02 tax per pack. For your legislator's address, log on to

  2. Write a letter to the editor of magazines that run tobacco ads asking them to stop.

  3. Support passage of federal legislation to give FDA authority to regulate tobacco.

  4. Promote the Indiana Tobacco Quit Line 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669).

  5. Empower youth to fight back against the tobacco industry by getting involved at

  6. Give your business to restaurants that are smoke free and support local smoke-free ordinances in all workplaces. If you need assistance, contact Paul Messplay at 317-241-6383 of the Hoosier Faith and Health Coalition.

  7. Establish policies in your church, worksite, community center, health care facility and faith-based organization that protect everyone from secondhand smoke.

  8. If you are an employer, provide incentives to employees who don't smoke or quit smoking, and offer cessation resources.

  9. Contact nine people you know, share this information and ask them to complete the Top 9 list as well.

Remember that values and healthy lifestyles begin in our congregations. The teen smoking epidemic cannot be ignored by those who are called to love one another.

For more about a teen smoking cessation program for your church, please contact the Rev. Cyndi Alte at Clarian Health by e-mail at or by phone at 317-962-9330.