News and Events

The QuitDoc Foundation Continues to Advocate for a Tobacco Free Future in Highlands County
September 9, 2021

In 2007 Florida’s voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment, Article X, Section 27. This amendment called for establishing a comprehensive tobacco education and prevention program, and thus, the Tobacco Free Florida (TFF) program was born. Every county in the state of Florida has its own local tobacco control program which includes partners and stakeholders in the community. These local partnerships are administered through the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida (BTFF) and funded by money derived from the state’s tobacco settlement agreement which took place in 1997 against major tobacco companies.

The Tobacco Free Partnership of Highlands County has been facilitated by the QuitDoc Foundation since 2009. For the past 12 years, we have implemented youth prevention programs, such as the Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Clubs, programs to reduce tobacco use in rural communities, projects to create tobacco free organizations, and measures to counteract tobacco marketing in retail environment. Our partnership is dedicated to the creation of tobacco-free social norms through many initiatives, and we are pleased to continue our efforts here locally.

First and foremost, we work relentlessly to protect our most vulnerable and valuable asset, our Youth. SWAT is Florida's statewide youth organization working to mobilize, educate, and equip Florida youth to revolt against and de-glamorize Big Tobacco. SWAT is a united movement of empowered youth working towards a tobacco free future. SWAT Youth work to change the way people view tobacco as well as reduce the social norms associated with tobacco use - making it less desirable, less acceptable, and less accessible.

We currently have seven active SWAT clubs in Highlands County: Avon Park High School, Avon Park Middle School, Hill Gustat Middle School, Lake Placid High School, Lake Placid Middle School, Sebring High School and Sebring Middle School. SWAT members can typically expect to participate in a wide range of activities including community education and outreach, public speaking, data collection, and media advocacy. In addition, youth get the opportunity to attend statewide trainings with the Florida SWAT Program to discuss tobacco trends and develop their leadership skills. SWAT Youth also help advocate for change at the local level by sharing information and statistics with decision makers.

In addition to working closely with our Youth, we will be continuing our efforts with the Highlands County School District to ensure that a comprehensive tobacco free schools’ policy is both in place and enforced. Our local TFP/SWAT members work to gather information, conduct assessments, present to partners and stakeholders, and educate decision makers on the benefits of policy change. We help identify strengths within the district’s policy, acknowledge areas of growth, and provide ideas on sample policy language and enforcement. In Highlands specifically, we are focusing heavily on bringing more education and prevention into our schools as opposed to students being thrown into in/out of school suspension when caught with tobacco on campus. We would love to see an educational piece included in board policy to inform our youth on the dangers of tobacco use, especially related to the new and emerging Electronic Devices.

For the past few years, we have also been working to create a safer environment within our community by pushing for more tobacco-free organizations in Highlands County. Creating more tobacco-free events and venues provides endless benefits to residents by allowing them to enjoy their time without the worry of being exposed to secondhand smoke or vapor. This also provides an environment that shows youth tobacco use is not the norm and helps support those that have made the difficult decision to quit. Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death and disease, and tobacco free organizations send a very important message that the community’s health and well-being are a top priority. 

Last but not least, we have worked deep in the Point of Sale (POS) realm the past several years and will continue our efforts locally. As of October 1, 2021, the minimum age to purchase tobacco in Florida is 21, which aligns with the federal law. This is a great step in keeping another generation from being addicted to tobacco, yet we still have quit the workload when it comes to tobacco sales and marketing by Big Tobacco. We will continue to educate retailers on proper product placement, work on increasing age of sale signage, and work with local law enforcement to stop the sale of tobacco products to those under the age of 21.

We feel strongly that empowering our youth, strengthening local policies, implementing more tobacco free organizations, and continuing to educate retailers will certainly diminish the socially accepted behaviors associated with tobacco use in Highlands County. We also believe our efforts will assist in decreasing the percentage of tobacco users, reducing the amount of youth exposure to secondhand smoke, and increasing the overall health of our residents. Together, we can reduce the toll of tobacco on our community.

For more information on the tobacco free program or SWAT Youth in Highlands County, visit or contact Amanda John: or Jessica Carlson: