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Tara Noye, South Central Wisconsin Tobacco Free Coalition Coordinator, checks on some information online in her office at the Juneau County Health Department Aug. 2 in Mauston. Noye, a Reedsburg native, started the position July 24.

Kevin Damask, Star-Times

Juneau County has a new advocate for public health.

Tara Noye was hired as the South Central Wisconsin Tobacco Free Coalition Coordinator recently, replacing MacKenzie Vinz — who left the county health department to pursue other interests last month. Noye began her tenure July 24 and is excited to help Juneau County residents make healthier choices.

Noye, a Reedsburg native, graduated from UW-La Crosse in 2015 with a degree in community health education. Noye previously worked as a volunteer coordinator for Habitat for Humanity for Sauk, Columbia and Iowa counties. Through her new position, Noye coordinates tobacco-free efforts in Juneau, Adams, Sauk and Richland counties.

“I really wanted to work with health disparities and more with the sociological side of our health,” Noye said. “There is a lot of environmental stuff, especially with the soft targeting of tobacco to certain groups based on your living conditions, socio-economic status and education level that really plays a factor in health and I don’t think people are aware of it.”

Jennifer Froh, a health educator with the county, thinks Noye is the right fit for the position.

“Tara seems really outgoing and energetic and really has a passion for what the SAFE Coalition and what the Tobacco Free Coalition are working towards,” Froh said. “It was something MacKenzie (Vinz) spearheaded and it just continues to grow and build.”

The passion to decrease health disparities led Noye to pursue a career in government health. She believes Juneau County has its share of health concerns which need to be addressed. Being a rural, low-income area, the county has plenty of unique challenges.

“We have to be so much more strategic about how we’re using our resources,” Noye said. “Juneau County is having a lot of issues with maternal and prenatal smoking. In general, we have higher rates than surrounding counties. If there is a strategic way we can bring resources into these rural counties, we need to be a part of that because they get overlooked a lot.”

Noye realizes overseeing programs in four counties will be challenging, but she’s prepared to bring health education and resources to the rural communities. Specifically, in Juneau County, Noye will collaborate with the SAFE Coalition, a group of health educators and community members working to decrease the use of tobacco, alcohol and prescription drug abuse among county residents.

“It’s only been around for a couple years and I will be working with the Tobacco Free Coaltion,” Noye said.

With the Tobacco Free Coalition, Noye works with area retail stores to make sure they’re not selling tobacco products to minors. The coalition chooses a youth member every year who attempts to purchase tobacco from stores to see if they will sell to someone younger than 18.

Noye also runs two FACT clubs in Mauston and Baraboo. Through FACT, youth members learn about the effects of addiction and practice positive ways to steer clear from drugs, tobacco and alcohol.

“If you really want to prevent addiction, you need to start young and teenagers don’t want to hear it from their parents or teachers,” Noye said. “If we can get other teenagers to help change that culture of acceptance, that’s when you start making an impact in reducing addiction rates.”

In the future, Noye especially wants to connect with pregnant mothers to reduce prenatal smoking rates. Noye said expecting moms sometimes don’t realize the risks they’re putting their unborn babies through by smoking. And the addiction of nicotine is hard to break.

“How do we make it OK to get help and seek help too?” Noye said.

“It’s definitely a big problem (in Juneau County),” Froh said.

For area youth, Noye said cigarette smoking is declining, but vaping and chewing tobacco use is on the rise. She said chewing or “dipping” is more prevalent in rural settings, especially farms. A recent study showed smoking rates have fallen in the general population, but cigarette use among persons with lower incomes has increased.

“Smoking rates have been at an all-time low for the past three decades but we’re seeing more targeting to lower-income groups,” Noye said. “Especially with minorities and we’re seeing more targeting to youth with colorful and flavorful new tobacco products. The scary thing with that is they’re not as regulated by the USDA.”

Froh said Noye will strive for additional grant funding to help promote the missions of SAFE, FACT and the Tobacco Free Coalition.

“She’ll be a great asset to our program and helping it move forward,” Froh said.

Contact Kevin Damask at 608-963-7323 or on Twitter @kdamask