The St. Joseph’s Community Health Centre in Saint John 

Kathy London Anthony works as a community health nurse at the St. Joseph’s Community Health Centre in Saint John.

Inside St. Joseph’s Hospital, a team of professionals, including family physicians, nurses and social workers offer a variety of services to resident in the area.

“We meet the needs of our community, some of which are the most vulnerable people in the population,” explains Kathy.

On a day-to-day basis, Kathy explains that prevention is key to providing health care.

“Every time we make contact with someone, we’re one step closer of helping them make changes in their lifestyles, for their health.”

This approach paved the way for the anti-tobacco “Smoking Prevention / Life Skills” program which Kathy offers to Grade 5 students at Glen Falls School during the lunch hour, with the help of a Take Action Against Tobacco Use grant from the Department of Social Development in 2016.

The program’s goal is to give children the tools necessary to spread the tobacco-free message to their peers, siblings, parents and the larger community, while making changes to improve their health and prevent smoking-related health issues.

“Each week, we do activities together. We’re not only increasing knowledge of tobacco products and their harmful effects, but we give them life skills.”

The population which benefits from the services offered by the St. Joseph’s Community Health Centre is vulnerable explains Kathy. She says this explains the necessity of the program.

According to data from the 2014 income tax reports, Saint John had the lowest median income for single parent families among the 33 metropolitan areas of Canada, for the tenth consecutive year.

“Children at-risk can have lower self-esteem. Therefore, working on their life skills is way to give them tools to resist the pressure to use tobacco, especially since smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are increasingly being used in the community.”

The program started in September 2016. According to Kathy, the attendance rate has been very high.

“The kids really enjoy it. They absorb the information we give them.”

The children attending Glenn Falls School are in grades from kindergarten to 5. Kathy says it’s crucial to offer the program right before they leave to attend Middle School.

“Children are forming their values about tobacco and smoking at a young age. Even if they don’t start smoking before Middle School age, it’s important to start prevention in elementary grades. With the right information, they can form their own opinions.”

Not only does she provide the children with different tools to say no to smoking, Kathy also gives them information to take home.

“Some of the parents’ and siblings of the participants smoke. This is definitely the population we want to reach. It’s all about small steps so the children can be part of the tobacco-free movement.”

Kathy says she’s proud to have created a program based on information.

“I’ve always been very interested in working with children. It’s very important to me to give them skills to be successful adults later on. I find it very satisfying to be able to provide this program. Don’t forget that the number one cause of admission to hospitals is related to smoking. I see a lot of older people at the St. Joseph’s Community Health Centre with the same issues we’re informing the students about. If I can help the students avoid that trouble down the road, then we succeeded.”

In New Brunswick, the rate of smokers went from 22.5% of the population in 2010 to 20.9% in 2014. Kathy says it’s not the time to stop educating children about the dangers of smoking. Throughout the rest of the school year, she plans on building refusal and decision-making skills.

“The tobacco industry always comes up with a new edge. The best way to decrease its effect is through awareness and education. If we don’t keep our efforts up, we could see smoking rates going up. Youth are vulnerable to peer pressure. If we can keep them from smoking in the earlier years, we can keep them smoke-free for the rest of their lives.”

Story used with permission from Kathy London Anthony.

Published in January 2017.

By Jean-Étienne Sheehy – NBATC Communications Coordinator.