By Cyndi Alte
calte@clarian.org

It's an unusual name, I know, but one worth paying attention to: KICK BUTTS DAY. March 31 is KICK BUTTS DAY, a national day for teen activism against smoking. More than 2,000 events nationwide will provide the opportunity to speak up and take action against tobacco use. 2008 marks the 13th annual KICK BUTTS DAY.

Health care workers and facilities have been battling the effects of tobacco for years. And with good reason. Here's some grim news about teenage smoking:

  • 22.7 million packs of cigarettes are sold annually to underage smokers in Indiana.

  • 90 percent of smokers are addicted by age 19.

  • 160,000 Hoosier teens under 18 will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.

  • 78,900 Indiana high school students smoke - 23.2 percent of the teen population.

  • 11,400 Hoosiers under 18 years old become new daily smokers each year.

  • 420,000 Indiana children are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.

  • Nearly one-fifth (18.5 percent) of pregnant women in Indiana smoke, compared with 10.7 percent women nationwide, creating risk for preterm delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome.

  • Indiana has the second highest smoking rate in the nation - second only to Tennessee. That is 27.6 percent of the population or 1.2 million people.

  • Smoking related deaths cause more deaths than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

This is grim news not only for the health care industry, but for the church as well. The Barna Research Group reports that 39 percent of the un-churched smoke, while 20 percent of born-again Christians smoke.

In a related study, John Hopkins University found that religious-based smoking cessation programs have a much better success rate than someone quitting on their own. The study found that nearly twice as many smokers were able to quit for the long-term than those who received no support from their church or pastor.

Churches and faith leaders play an important role in addressing all societal challenges. Helping to reduce tobacco use, the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States, is a natural extension of these efforts.

The United Methodist Church has taken an active stance in smoking cessation and abstinence. From our Social Principles found in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church:

"We affirm our historic tradition of high standards of personal discipline and social responsibility. In light of the overwhelming evidence that tobacco smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco are hazardous to the health of persons of all ages, we recommend total abstinence from the use of tobacco.

"We urge that our educational and communication resources be utilized to support and encourage such abstinence. Further, we recognize the harmful effects of passive smoke and support the restriction of smoking in public areas and workplaces."

In addition to its support of the KICK BUTTS campaign, two other efforts backed by the UMC are worth noting: Faith United Against Tobacco (realized in Indiana as the Hoosier Faith and Health Coalition) and a recent initiative by the General Commission on United Methodist Men and the General Board of Church and Society.

Faith United Against Tobacco is an ecumenical faith-based organization with a mission to mobilize the faith community to support proven solutions to reduce smoking. Religious groups participating in this campaign include United Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, National Council of Churches, Seventh Day Adventists, American Muslim Foundation, Southern Baptist Convention, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, Church Women United, Church of the Brethren and the Islamic Society of North America.

The UMM and GBCS have joined 24 other faith-based groups in urging Congress to support FDA regulation of tobacco legislation. A letter from leaders of 25 faith groups, from the Islamic Society of North America to the Southern Baptist Convention, was sent to all members of Congress encouraging their action to restrict tobacco advertising, regulate warning labels, remove hazardous ingredients from cigarettes or reduce nicotine levels.

That's a lot of work and action initiated by our church. What about your congregation? Ready to KICK BUTTS?

Information for this article was compiled from the CDD, Clarian Health, Smoke Free Indiana, The Voice, Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation, National Cancer Institute, and umc.org.

Here are some Internet sites to view

  • KICK BUTTS - www.kickbuttsday.org

  • VOICE - a resource for teens seeking information about helping a family member quit smoking. www.voice.tv

  • Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation - provides information about prevention and reduction of the use of all tobacco products. www.in.gov/itpc

  • Smoke Free Indiana - promotes healthy, tobacco-free lifestyles through community action and advocacy. www.smokefreeindiana.org

Cyndi Alte serves on the pastoral care team of Clarian Health at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. She is a clergy member of the South Indiana Conference.