This is a national day of activism for youths worldwide to take a stand and speak out against big tobacco. If we can keep our youths from ever trying tobacco, there is a greater chance they will never become one of the 4,400 people who die each year in Colorado as a result of tobacco use. About 90 percent of adult tobacco users began before they were 18 years old. Tobacco use is a burden for everyone — not only for the individual’s health and related expenses, but also for the entire state, which pays $1.3 billion for smoking-related health costs each year.
Children and teens can be easily influenced by tobacco companies through movies, advertising, friends and other sources. Teens may not realize how addictive nicotine is and are often unaware of the serious health consequences they might face over time. Tobacco use leads to cancer, heart disease, emphysema, osteoporosis, infertility, hypertension and early wrinkling and skin changes.
Unfortunately, Pueblo’s youth rates for tobacco use are higher than the state’s rates: 19 percent of Pueblo youths smoke, compared to 11.9 percent for Colorado; 14.6 percent of Pueblo youths chew tobacco, compared to 7.4 percent for Colorado; and 26.6 percent of Pueblo youths smoke cigars, compared to 15 percent for Colorado.
Tobacco companies are constantly inventing new products in order to appeal to our youths and to gain new customers. Clear evidence of this is reflected in the new dissolvable tobacco products — sticks, strips and orbs. These products consist of finely ground tobacco along with highly addictive nicotine and are absorbed in the mouth. People can only speculate what other dangerous chemicals are in these products, since they are not currently regulated by the FDA.
These products, being test marketed in Colorado, can easily be hidden and used without parents or teachers knowing. They look like breath mints, strips and toothpicks, and the containers are cellphone-shaped. Young children and infants are at risk for overdose if they ingest them.
The Colorado State Board of Health, of which I am a member, passed a resolution asking R.J. Reynolds Co. to top selling cigarette products until the FDA had an opportunity to review them. Soon after, the Colorado Public Health Association and the Pueblo City-County Health Department’s Board of Health also passed similar resolutions. R.J. Reynolds immediately responded that they would not remove the products from Colorado. This sent a message from R.J. Reynolds inferring the state health board’s resolution is of no significance to them — and the health of Coloradans is not a concern.
According to the 2008 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, three out of four high school students in Pueblo County who tried to purchase tobacco were successful.
Colorado does not require a license to sell tobacco. Requiring licenses of tobacco retailers would allow for local enforcement to educate retailers and watch for illegal sales to minors. The health department and the Pueblo Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership’s coalition would like to eliminate illegal sales of tobacco to minors in our community and licensing can be effective.