Four local students received Tablet Fires from South Georgia Medical Center on Wednesday for their award-winning smoking prevention essays. SGMC’s community health needs assessment identified tobacco use as a major health risk indicator in Berrien, Lanier and Lowndes counties. SGMC held the essay contest for the second year as an opportunity to help combat the issue and raise awareness.Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S. Each year smoking accounts for 443,000 premature deaths and 49,000 nonsmokers die as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke. Half of all Americans who continue to smoke will die from smoking-related diseases. “The goal of the contest was to engage and educate students on the health dangers of tobacco use,” said Emily Gray Powell, SGMC Community Health Promotions Coordinator. Students were encouraged to write their essays on the health consequences of smoking. The winners are Hailey Edwards, Lowndes Middle School; Trevian Daniels, J L Newbern Middle School; Samantha Stevens, Berrien Middle School and Vivian Thomas, Valdosta Middle School. Each student’s Language Arts teacher also received a $150 gift card to the Learning Tree. The teachers were Amanda Hiers, Lowndes Middle School; Jeannie Tucker (Stepping in for her, Larkie Murray), Berrien Middle School; Tiffany Lampkin, J.L. Newbern Middle School; and Shelton Mobley, Valdosta Middle School.Essay winner Haley Edwards was shocked when she realized she had been chosen as her teachers didn’t tell her until the presentation. Her brother knew and told her, “Wednesday is going to be a good day for you.” According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 9 of 10 adult smokers had their first smoke by age 18. The younger a person is when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to use it as an adult. The Great American Smokeout is held every November, on the third Thursday to encourage smokers to go the distance, and to finally give up smoking. This awareness day is national and put on by the American Cancer Society.