Protecting our kids doesnt end at the school exit.
With schools now out, parents and others in our community will once again be faced with the challenges of keeping kids engaged in positive activities and encouraging them to make safe and healthy choices. For many, this includes making the choice not to smoke.
Protecting kids from tobacco is crucial for them and for all of us. The numbers are sobering: Nearly 90 percent of adult smokers become addicted to tobacco before the age of 18 and most of them regret starting. More than 5,700 Colorado kids become new daily smokers each year. One-in-three of them will die from health problems related to their addiction.
Since people who reach young adulthood without ever trying tobacco are much less likely to start using as adults, it is critical that we prevent tobacco use before it starts.
The problem of youth tobacco use hits close to home in our communities as we typically have higher rates of underage tobacco use including significantly higher rates of spit tobacco use.
Whether or not we accept it as parents and educators, the truth is that youth are consistently faced with the decision of whether or not to use tobacco. Advertising reaches them in their neighborhoods, products in retail establishments subtly vie for their attention and cigarettes are easy to get. It is not a decision they face just when schools out, but one they must grapple with all year-round.
We cannot teach our kids how to make healthy choices without understanding the various ways in which they are exposed to tobacco and how they are able to get it. In particular, we must consider how youth are able to buy tobacco, the influence of tobacco advertising on them and a social supply that still makes a controlled substance available to minors.
Although the sale of tobacco to minors is prohibited, more than 60 percent of youth under the age of 18 in Colorado who attempted to purchase tobacco report being able to do so and nearly half of the kids who purchased tobacco illegally say they were not asked to show any proof of age. This indicates that illegal tobacco sales to minors remain a problem at the retail level, despite the current law and prevention campaigns.
Identifying the sources of illegal sales is not as simple as one might think. In Colorado, we dont even know where tobacco is being sold, or who is selling it. Colorado is one of only seven states in the nation with no licensing of retailers, a practice that helps to compile that information and which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says helps to limit youth access to tobacco.
Tobacco is not only easy to access, but also specifically targets youth through advertisements. While many adults may become desensitized to pervasive tobacco advertising, kids not only notice them but are strongly influenced by them. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reports that a third of underage experimentation with smoking is attributable to tobacco-company advertising and promotions. In fact, research has found that kids are more likely to be compelled to smoke by cigarette marketing than by peer pressure.
Helping to ensure that kids do not access tobacco not only helps to protect them; it also helps to reduce the social supply of kids providing tobacco to other kids. That means many more kids in Montezuma County will ultimately live longer, healthier lives.
Lori Cooper is director of the Montezuma County Health Department. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.