Joe Cool Returns

WHEELING – “Joe Too Cool to Smoke” is back.

Health Officer Dr. William Mercer informed Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health members this week that he plans to conduct an anti-smoking presentation at two Ohio County Schools – Woodsdale Elementary and Steenrod Elementary – this spring. But before he can go forward he needs to do some fundraising.

“I need to raise $7,500,” said Mercer, who requested a donation from the board to help put on the events.

The board unanimously approved $1,000. Mercer said the money will also be used to print T-shirts for the students at each of the schools. He said, to date, he has received several commitments from people who said they would also give money to the cause.

Administrator Howard Gamble said board’s donation will come from the health department’s general operating fund.

The campaign is centered around the Snoopy character that declares “Peanuts and People for Clean Air Everywhere.” In 2007-08, Mercer used the licensed figure to launch a campaign to help stop school children from starting smoking and everyone else to quit the habit. He visited 17 schools.

Mercer thought at one point the campaign might be used nationwide, but the company that held the Peanuts license at the time, United Media, decided against that.

Now that Jean Schulz, wife of the late Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, is back in control of licensing, Mercer said he was able to get permission from her to do the educational campaign again with the character and print T-shirts.

Mercer said he was approached by a Woodsdale Elementary teacher who suggested he do the program again.

Much like before, Mercer wants to include presentations using healthy and diseased pig lungs. Students from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine also are expected to do presentations to help the children understand how smoking impacts the body. For example, last time children were asked to hold their noses while at the same time try to suck air through a straw. The difficulty was supposed to mimic how it feels to have emphysema.

Mercer believes it is important to prevent children from starting smoking, as West Virginia continues to be the second-highest ranking state in the nation for youths who smoke.

“That’s one of the things we try to do – to get them not to start smoking,” he said.