The U.S. Surgeon General is urging states to discourage kids from smoking by implementing tobacco tax hikes, high-impact interventions, smoking bans and mass media campaigns.
Each day, nearly 4,000 kids try their first cigarette and an additional 1,000 under the age of 18 become daily users, according to a report issued this week by the Office of the Surgeon General. About 3.6 million middle and high school students smoke, the report states.
In Utah, more than 200,000 youths and adults continue to smoke, according to the Utah Department of Health. For every tobacco-related death, at least two youths or young adults become new regular smokers.
“We have every intention to continue our vigilance in protecting our children and addressing this leading cause of preventable death in Utah,” said Dr. David Patton, UDOH executive director.
“Working together to implement the findings of this report, we can further benefit the youths and young adults of Utah.”
The state continues to find ways to educate about tobacco and discourage its use, Patton said.
The surgeon general’s report, he said, shows that efforts over the years by Utah lawmakers and anti-tobacco advocates are working and should be a model for the nation.
In 2010, the Utah Legislature approved a $1-per-pack tax hike. In addition, it has passed comprehensive tobacco-control laws and funded effective statewide programs to keep tobacco products out of the hands of youths.
Those measures, Patton said, have helped lower the teen smoking rate from 12 percent in 1999 to 5.9 percent.
Nationally, 19.5 percent of kids smoke cigarettes.
“Studies show that when cigarettes get more expensive, teens stop buying them,” said Amy Sands, UDOH tobacco prevention and control program manager.
“We can thank lawmakers as well as the efforts of our local health departments, educators and parents for protecting the current and future health of our young people.”
Anna Guymon, Weber-Morgan Health Department tobacco-prevention and -control program manager, said the department has taken several steps to help support the cause.
For instance, she said, the Weber-Morgan outdoor smoking regulation was passed in 2009.
“This regulation protects citizens from harmful secondhand-smoke exposure in outdoor public places and reduces youth perception of tobacco use as a social norm,” she said. “Smoke-free policies are associated with lower tobacco use rates among youth.”
Staff also train teachers and future educators on the importance of promoting tobacco prevention through established curriculum, such as Prevention Dimensions, in the public school system.
The health department provides teachers with free resources such as videos, other visual aids and learning activities.
Throughout the last year, the Weber-Morgan Governing Youth Council and several other local anti-tobacco youth groups have educated the media, policy makers, their peers and the community at large on emerging tobacco products, the harmful effects of tobacco use, the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and the tobacco industry’s advertising tactics aimed at youths, Guymon said.
“During fiscal year 2011, 5.1 percent of Weber-Morgan stores sold tobacco to underage youth during compliance checks,” she said. “Since 2001, the illegal sales rate has decreased substantially.”
The Davis County Health Department is also working to combat smoking by youths. It offers a free teen tobacco-reduction program and gives suggestions on how to eliminate secondhand smoke. It offers schools tobacco-prevention materials and recognizes local retailers for not selling tobacco products to underage youths.
Despite continued efforts, the Office of the Surgeon General wants to remind the public that the tobacco industry and its marketing tools are the main causes of the tobacco epidemic.
It states that tobacco companies are as aggressive as ever in marketing products and continue to bombard youths with messages encouraging them to smoke.
While legal settlements and laws have curtailed some of their marketing, tobacco companies still spend $10.5 billion a year, nearly $29 million each day, to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, according to the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission.
“Policy makers at all levels must take equally aggressive action to protect our children,” states the surgeon general’s report.
“It’s time to side with America’s kids, not the tobacco industry.”
Kids who use tobacco may:
• Cough and have asthma attacks more often and develop respiratory problems, leading to more sick days, more doctor bills and poorer athletic performance. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the U.S., causing heart disease, cancer and strokes.
• Be more likely to use alcohol and other drugs such as marijuana and cocaine.
• Become addicted to tobacco and find it extremely hard to quit. Spit tobacco and cigars are not safe alternatives to cigarettes; low-tar and additive-free cigarettes are not safe either.
Advice for parents:
• Talk directly to children about the risks of tobacco use. If friends or relatives became sick or died because of tobacco use, let your kids know.
• If you use tobacco, you can still make a difference. Your best move is to quit. Meanwhile, don’t use tobacco in your children’s presence, don’t offer it to them, and don’t leave it accessible to them.
• Start the dialogue about tobacco use at age 5 or 6 and continue through your child’s high school years. Many kids start using by age 11 and are addicted by age 14.
• Know if your kids’ friends use tobacco; talk about ways for them to refuse it.
• Discuss with kids the false glamorization of tobacco on billboards and in other media such as TV, movies and magazines.
• Vote with your pocketbook. Support businesses that don’t sell tobacco to kids.
• Be sure your schools and school events are tobacco-free.
• Let your local health department know about people who are smoking in a smoke-free environment.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention