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Beth Hughes, Bismarck, Published March 08 2014

Letter: Big tobacco goes after ‘replacement smokers’

Even though the risks of using tobacco are well documented, it remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death and disease in the country. This year alone, nearly 500,000 Americans will die prematurely because of smoking. Unfortunately, tobacco marketing efforts recruit two new young smokers to replace each tobacco user who dies.

It’s well documented that tobacco companies market to youth in an effort to recruit “replacement smokers.” Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that smoking and smokeless tobacco use are initiated and established primarily during adolescence. In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 smokers start smoking by the age of 18. Tobacco companies know this and continually look for new ways to hook our youth.

Tobacco companies pay convenience stores – many located near schools – and other tobacco retailers to prominently display advertisements for their products near the entrances, exits and checkouts. Tobacco companies also target a new generation of potential tobacco users by designing items to appeal to youth, such as fruit-flavored products in colorful packaging that make tobacco look and smell like candy.

In addition to new flavors and packaging, price is another factor that affects tobacco use. In states with low tobacco taxes, like North Dakota, it’s easier to make tobacco products affordable, and that makes it easier for youth to obtain tobacco. Research supported by the CDC and the American Lung Association shows that increasing a tobacco tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce youth tobacco use; by making tobacco less affordable, kids are less likely to buy it.

The Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy uses media campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco use. The Center also works with local public health units across the state to educate our communities on tobacco prevention so our children live healthier lives as fewer of them become addicted to nicotine.

We are committed to preventing tobacco use among our youth and adult populations. We’ve made great progress, but there is more work to be done. Showing support for tobacco prevention efforts in your community is a great start to help reduce youth tobacco use rates. Here is what you can do:

• Support tobacco-free and smoke-free policies within your community. When youth are not exposed to tobacco, it increases their chance to remain tobacco free.

• Support policies that restrict how tobacco is marketed. Tobacco companies are aggressive marketers that target youth through retail displays, internet marketing and magazines that are popular with teens.

• Support tobacco tax increases. Our youth are less likely to use tobacco if it is less affordable.

These strategies are CDC Best Practice strategies – strategies that are proven to reduce youth tobacco use rates. We ask the community to join us in this fight by showing your support for tobacco prevention.

Hughes, Ph.D., is a registered respiratory therapist, and chairwomen, North Dakota Tobacco Prevention

and Control Committee.