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Racing to be tobacco free

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By Ryan Butler

“Earnhardt” may have been a bigger name at the Bronson Speedway on June 30 but Tabaco Free Florida made a name for itself as well.
Aided by members of Levy County’s Students Working Against Tabacco (SWAT) club, representatives from Tabacco Free Florida helped spread the word for tabacco prevention and ways to quit using. They were further helped by Jeffery Earnhardt, grandson of Hall of Fame NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, who was racing at the speedway as part of a state-wide tour with his partner, Tabacco Free Florida.
Tabacco Prevention Specialist Kristina Zachary said a presence in the community, which includes events like the one held at the racetrack and earlier this year at the Cedar Key Arts Festival, have made a noticeable impact on Levy County. She said this has helped out recent changes in county policy such as the smoking ban by adults at public schools and a resolution before the county commissioners recommending the ban of candy-flavored tabacco products.
“This is a huge accomplishment, especially in a rural county,” Zachary said.
A major branch of tabacco-prevention and awareness in the county comes from SWAT members.
“SWAT is a youth-lead organization composed of youths to empower our peers to stop using tobacco or to prevent them from using it,” said Ansley Pentz, a Chiefland High School student and an area SWAT leader.
Pentz said while Tabacco Free Florida, using things like its quit line, focuses on encouraging smokers to quit, SWAT looks to dissuade students from starting. She said a key to the group’s success has been an acceptance of tabacco product users.
 “We realize that tabacco companies manipulate people,” Pentz said.  “I think if people have a positive view and don’t put users down, you have a much better position with them.”
Fellow SWAT member and CHS student Christian Aracena said that student-led efforts have, for the most part, been successful as well. Although some groups don’t receive it, many have appreciated the insights on tabacco and responded with an open mind.
“People respect us for at least standing up for what we believe in,” Pentz said.