News and Events

The Tobacco Free Partnership Prepares Starts Another Year of Work to Reduce Tobacco Use Rates in Highlands County
September 6, 2023

Sebring, FL — The Highlands County Tobacco Free Partnership (HCTFP) opened our 2023-2024 fiscal year with a collaborative meeting at the new Greater of Sebring Chamber of Commerce location. These valuable members are a core piece of the Partnership and we are so thankful for their commitment to Highlands County.

The following organizations and members were present and bring so much value to our community: Highlands County Board of County Commissioners - Scott Kirouac, Highlands County Sheriffs Office-Sgt. Dusty McGee, Advent Health- Amberhope Montero, HCA Florida Highlands- Laura Andrews, Highlands Department of Health- Pam Crain, Tri County Human Services- Joshua Gordon, Victoria Hamrick, Lakisha Hurd-Hipps, Chavious Gordon, Ivy Gonzalez, Highlands County School Board- Nicole Radonski, Tim Leeseburg, John Varady, Sebring Police Department- Chief Karl Hoglund, City of Sebring- Harrison Harvey, Heartland Core Wellness – Aisha Alayande, Grantee Staff, Jessica Carlson, Amanda John.

It was a great pleasure to have guest speakers, Timothy Leeseberg and John Varady present to the partnership on behalf of the the Highlands County School Board. Mr. Leeseberg is the current District Title IX Student Coordinator - Director of Safety & Security and served as terrific resource to the partnership by presenting the attached incident data which is specific to our local youth. Mr. Leesburg has served as various capacities within the Florida school system, including assistant principle in Hillsborough County. Mr. Varady is the current Coordinator of Communications and Special Projects for the Highlands County School district, past Director for the Heartland Educational Consortium and was also a teacher in the district for many years.

2023-2024 Discipline Date presented stated there have been 1095 referrals with the majority stemming from the local middle and high schools. Sebring High School being the highest at 1/3rd of all referrals from the 18 Highlands County Schools. The top 5 disciplinary actions were, Individual Student Suspension, Out of School Suspension, Detention, Class Excusal and School Service Work.  The incidents involving vape, or tobacco, has risen from 101 incidents in 2019 to 475 incidents in 2023. Twenty-six (26) of those incidents have occurred in the current 23/24 school year. Fortunately/unfortunately, vapes/tobacco only make up 3.5% of current incidents; but the incident trend is increasing year after year; from 1% in 2019 to 3.6% in 2023. 

“Mr. Leeseburg gave a very insightful presentation to our members and while the data is alarming when it comes to vaping/tobacco use in our school district, Mr. Leeseburg explained the steps they are taking to help combat this issue. Not only are they utilizing the youth Tobacco Prevention Program as a first infraction for students caught vaping, they’re also making use of the Class Action Lawsuit funds from Juul and Altria to purchase Halo vape sensors to use in our secondary schools. “We are so grateful to have a school district that is positioning student health and safety at the top of their priority list,” said Amanda John, Program Manager with QuitDoc Foundation.

The Partnership collaborated on several ways we can all work together to expand on prevention efforts in Highlands County. Not only are we working directly with the school district to combat the vape epidemic, we are also working at positioning anti-tobacco/vape messaging and signage at public parks and beaches in order to discourage use of these harmful products, working with retailers to educate on the importance of limiting tobacco advertisements and putting a stop to underage sales.

The Highlands TFP extends a warm welcome to anyone that is interested in getting involved and making a difference within our Highlands County Community. Contact Jessica Carlson - to join our next meeting which will take place on December 6, 2023. Meetings are held at the Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce; first Wednesday of each quarter - March, June, September and December from 9am - 10am. 

Together, we are better. 

The Highlands County Tobacco Free Partnership (HCTFP) is funded by the 1997 Tobacco Settlement Agreement to support efforts in helping people quit using tobacco, prevent youth from starting, and protect everyone from secondhand smoke. For more information regarding partnership information and involvement contact: