The United States has made enormous progress in reducing youth smoking with the smoking rate among high school students falling from a record high of 36.4 percent in 1997 to 18.1 percent in 2012. Nonetheless, tobacco use among youths and among all Americans remains a serious problem.
Every day, nearly 1,000 U.S. kids become regular smokers and one third will die prematurely as a result. A 2012 U.S. Surgeon’s report — Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults — said that more than 3.6 million middle and high school students will smoke. It called youth tobacco use a “pediatric epidemic” that immediately harms children’s health and puts them on a path to debilitating diseases and premature death.
The following information is from Megan Hicks, executive director of the S.C. Tobacco-Free Collaborative, has agreed to discuss tobacco related issues:
The 2012 Surgeon General’s report concluded that tobacco marketing causes kids to start and continue using tobacco products. Tobacco companies spend $8.5 billion a year to promote deadly and addictive products, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The report highlights tobacco threats to kids today:
New Villains: Tobacco companies have introduced cheap, sweet and colorfully-packaged small cigars that entice kids. Many look like cigarettes, and they come in candy and fruit flavors with cheap prices. They are taxed lower rates than cigarettes and can be sold individually or small packs. Seven of 10 middle and high school students who currently use tobacco have used a flavored tobacco product.
Emerging Effects: Tobacco companies are also marketing novel smokeless tobacco products that look like breath mints, teabags and toothpicks. These products are easy for kids to hide. The teabag-like smokeless tobacco products, called snus, bear the names Marlboro and Camel. Camel snus are sold in colorful tins and have been marketed with elaborate ads in magazines and newspapers. These products come in flavors such as spearmint and “winter chill.” Also introduced has been an array of novel smokeless tobacco products — Camel Sticks, Strips or Orbs — which look like toothpicks. Breath strips and breath mints are available in candy-like packaging. Kids dissolve the mints which can be used without detection. Philip Morris is test-marketing “smokeless tobacco sticks” that look like chocolate-covered toothpicks.
These products appear so different from traditional smokeless tobacco products and are so easily concealed that kids could be using them without parents or teachers realizing the use of tobacco. Despite their appearances, these products cause and sustain nicotine addiction.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show an increase in awareness and use of electronic cigarettes, which are not currently regulated by any government agency to protect public health. Due to the lack of regulation, no one knows how much nicotine and other substances are in the different e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes use nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013 for middle-school students.
E-cigarette makers advertise on television, something traditional cigarettes makers have been banned from doing since 1971. Are they safe? In terms of e-cigarettes, there is not a lot of information on the long-term health impact. There is anecdotal evidence that some people use them to quit smoking cigarettes or cigars. That can be a problem because there is no evidence that nicotine, however absorbed, may adversely affect brain development among youth.
Cigarette companies report after-tax profits of $7.2 trillion. These profits have come with cost. Tobacco-related healthcare costs in the United States alone are $81 billion. In fact, cigarette smoking is the most devastating and preventable cause of disease and premature death in world history.
One out of every five people living in the industrial world will die early because of tobacco. The World Health Organization reports that worldwide, tobacco will kill one in every two users. The worldwide death toll from tobacco is about 3 million people each year.
U.S. Senators have introduced the Tobacco to 21 Act (S-2100) which would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. Earlier this year Hawaii became the first state to raise the minimum age to 21. An Institute of Medicine report released this year found the age 21 will likely prevent of delay initiation of tobacco use.
The S.C. Tobacco-free Collaborative will be working with community coalitions and South Carolina DHEC to launch new efforts to address the issue of youth. Currently, SCTFC highlights the health impact through different channels, including social media.
Tobacco-free means no type of tobacco product is allowed and provides a healthy environment for students, staff and visitors. It also reduces litter on campus. It promotes a healthy lifestyle through modeling healthy behaviors. Twenty-nine colleges and universities in South Carolina have already implemented a tobacco-free campus policy. That means 51 percent of the college student population is protected by a policy.
Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.