A grant received by the Licking County Health Department will be used to curb two of society's pressing health issues: smoking and childhood obesity.

A grant received by the Licking County Health Department will be used to curb two of society’s pressing health issues: smoking and childhood obesity.

“Our department is excited to have the opportunity to work with our partners to implement this program,” said Licking County health commissioner Joe Ebel. “We know that tobacco use and childhood obesity are significant health problems in Licking County, and this funding will allow us to address these problems and improve the health of county residents.”

Hamilton County Public Health awarded Licking County a $20,000 grant to assist schools and businesses in adopting tobacco-free campus policies. The health department also will work with day-care centers throughout the county to implement wellness policies.

Ebel that Licking County will begin utilizing the grant money “full throttle” in mid-October. He intends to begin urging Licking County public facilities and particularly education institutions to enact campus-wide non-smoking policies.

“We’ve had pretty good progress there,” he said, referring particularly to schools.

Ebel said State Farm Insurance, Licking Memorial Hospital and Park National Bank are local examples of organizations implementing successful non-smoking programs.

At the same time, Ebel said, his department would target day-care centers to tackle childhood obesity.

“We’re seeing children at younger and younger ages experiencing obesity,” he said.

If the wellness programs can target pre-schoolers, Ebel believes obesity issues will be far easier for county public schools to manage.

The adult smoking rate in Licking County is 27 percent and the Ohio Department of Health indicates that 31 percent the third-grade students in the county are overweight or obese, according to a release from the health department. Addressing these problems can lead to the reduction in chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and high blood pressure, the release said.

Ebel doesn’t believe Licking County’s numbers are significantly higher than other Ohio counties, but he believes the county health department received the grant money because it has a strong health-education division and can meet the goals of the grant.

Chad Brown, Licking County director of community health, said soon he’ll meet with Hamilton County health department officials to decide where to use the grant funds.

Licking Heights Superintendent Philip Wagner said his district has had a campus-wide non-smoking policy for quite some time.

“I think most school districts do,” he said.

Wagner is only in his second month as Licking Heights superintendent but, he said, that drawing from past experiences, he doesn’t believe it’s too tough to implement campus-wide non-smoking policies.

“I don’t think it’s that difficult in this day and age,” he said. “We constantly give people reminders.”

Obviously, Wagner said, students may not leave campus during the day to smoke, but some staff members will, which is fine as long as they don’t break policy in winter months.

“As winter comes, it’s not as east to go off campus,” he said. “It’s not a bad idea to send off a formal reminder.”

As for State Farm Insurance, the Newark campus adopted a tobacco-free policy June 1, 2009, said public affairs specialist Blake Zitko.

“It was seamless transition,” he said.

State Farm adopted a company-wide tobacco-free policy Jan. 1, 2010.

“We made this as easy as possible,” said Zitko. “It’s important we serve as a role model.

He said State Farm is one of Licking County’s largest employers.

Zitko said the policy helps State Farm control its own health benefit costs and, while there’s no official data, he believes the policy has improved productivity and provided a healthier environment for employees and clients who enter the premises.