County/school programs working to curb youth tobacco use
Did you know that cigarette ads have more influence than peer pressure on whether teens start smoking?
Ninety percent of adult smokers began smoking as teens or earlier, and become regular smokers by age 19, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data from 2003.
With the tobacco industry spending around $162 million on marketing in Oregon each year, it's no wonder 82 percent of youth smokers ages 12 to 17 prefer Marlboro, Camel and Newport cigarettes, three heavily advertised brands.
Jefferson County Tobacco Program Coordinator Danna Hastings is working on programs to:
. Reduce the number of youths who start smoking.
. Help current smokers who want to quit.
. Reduce people's exposure to secondhand smoke.
. Eliminate smoking disparities between different ethnic populations (some have higher smoking rates).
"We are addressing these goals with school-based and community-based programs," Hastings said.
Activities aimed at reducing youth tobacco use in Jefferson County include a "Reward/Reminder" program, where a minor, accompanied by adults, attempts to purchase tobacco in local stores. It is illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under age 18.
Clerks that sell are talked to by the adults and given printed information on the law. Clerks who refuse to sell are rewarded with gift certificates to a local business.
Additionally, annual surveys of county tobacco retailers are done to educate them about laws that require all tobacco products to be kept behind the counter or in a locked case.
Hastings is currently trying to get stores to reduce their "point of purchase" advertising.
This includes posters, signs, displays, coin holders, mirrors, shopping baskets or other functional items that advertise tobacco products, which are located inside, outside, or on the property of the store.
"Tobacco companies need to get kids hooked on smoking so they can replace customers who have died from their products," Hastings said, noting youths perceive that cigarettes will be easier to buy at stores where there is tobacco advertising.
Point of purchase statistics for Jefferson County showed that 16 out of 26 tobacco retailers surveyed had an average of six tobacco advertising signs per store.
Culver stores averaged two tobacco ads per store, while Madras and Metolius stores averaged 10 ads per store.
Hastings is urging retailers to eliminate all tobacco ads located near candy, child products, or below the 3 1/2-foot level.
"When tobacco ads are intentionally or inadvertently placed at children's eye level, it gets these images that tobacco is acceptable in front of kids starting at a very early age," she said.
Reducing the number of ads young children see can help dispel the myth that using tobacco is the "cool" thing to do, she added.
The number of Central and Eastern Oregon youths who smoke cigarettes and use smokeless tobacco is higher than the state average, according to statistics from the 2005 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey.
In Oregon, 10 percent of eighth graders and 17 percent of 11th graders said they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days. However, in Central/Eastern Oregon, the numbers were 14 percent for eighth graders and 22 percent for 11th graders.
Smokeless tobacco (chew, snuff and dip) had the most dramatic rise, with 7 percent of Central Oregon eighth grade males using it, compared to 5 percent statewide; and a whopping 24 percent of Central/Eastern Oregon 11th grade males using it, compared to 13 percent statewide.
Anti-smoking and smoking cessation programs have been offered in local schools over the years since the Oregon Tobacco Prevention and Education Program began in 1996.
Many kids start smoking in the eighth grade, but Hastings said "There is very little smoking increase for kids who have been in a school-based program," according to Oregon Healthy Teens Survey data.
The Culver School District began an in-school tobacco prevention program Oct. 9, coordinated by Barbara Ibrahim, who is also the school nurse. The 509-J District did not apply for a tobacco prevention program this year.
Ibrahim said signs have been put up around Culver schools noting that schools are tobacco-free zones, and she will be targeting kids in grades five through nine with tobacco prevention materials.
"We try to reach them in middle school before they even get started smoking, because once they start it's so hard to quit," Ibrahim said.
Culver area parents will be encouraged to join a task force to work with Ibrahim on tobacco prevention projects, and teachers and school employees will receive training from Ibrahim.
Tobacco prevention education works, Hastings said, noting since Oregon's program began in 1996, cigarette smoking has declined 55 percent among Oregon eighth graders, and 39 percent among Oregon 11th graders.
"Although fewer young people smoke today than five years ago, 20 kids in Oregon still start smoking every day," Hastings said, adding, "And of those 20, one-third of them will die prematurely due to a tobacco-related disease."
For adult and teen smokers who would like to quit, there is help through the free Oregon Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-7867 (or 1-877-266-3863 in Spanish).
Youth can get advanced counseling services over the quit line, and free nicotine patches with a doctor's prescription. Youth over age 18 can get two weeks of free nicotine patches.
Adults can receive free, confidential support and practical tips from an expert "quit coach."
The Quit Line is run by the state and paid for by state tobacco taxes. People can also get information at the program's Web site www.quittobacco.org.
The Great American Smokeout, a day when smokers across the United States try to quit, is coming Nov. 16, and free Quit Kits will be available around town to help people in the effort, Hastings said.