Teresa Wright: Tobacco still a burning issue | SteamboatToday.com

Teresa Wright: Tobacco still a burning issue

Kick Butts Day, on March 28, is the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids’ annual celebration of youth advocacy, leadership and activism. Now in its 11th year, the event promotes a day to stand out, speak up and seize control in the fight against tobacco.

In Colorado, one out of every four teenagers is smoking cigarettes. An additional 5,800 Colorado youth become regular smokers each year. Ninety percent of active smokers admit to starting the habit before the age of 18.

Counties in Northwest Colorado continue to have higher rates of spit tobacco use when compared to the region, state and nation. Recent research found smokeless tobacco usage in Northwest Colorado so significant, the situation was deemed “urgent.”

For decades, tobacco companies have been gaining strength. Tobacco companies spend more on marketing in a single day than 47 states and the District of Columbia spend on prevention in an entire year!

Even with the Master Settlement restrictions, tobacco continues to successfully target young people with advertising. Young girls today can see sleek, trendy ads for cigarettes in magazines such as Glamour, Marie Claire, InStyle and Vogue.

Due in part to the new smoke-free law, Colorado made significant progress last year in protecting the public from the dangers of smoking. However, an annual report card from the American Lung Association State of Tobac co Control 2006 notes the state is failing to effectively prevent youth from obtaining tobacco products.

This report graded the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in four categories: smoke-free air, tobacco taxes, prevention funding and restrictions on youth access to tobacco products. For the first time, Colorado earned an “A” for both prevention funding and smoke-free air.

Regrettably, the state received an “F” for youth access and a “D” for tobacco tax. It remains relatively easy for someone under 18 to walk into a store and buy a pack of cigarettes in Colorado. State law does not require cigarettes to be kept in a locked case or behind the counter, nor are store clerks required to check photo identification for the purchase of tobacco products.

It is generally easy for stores that sell to minors to avoid penalties. Although voters in 2004 approved a tax increase from 64 cents to 84 cents per pack, Colorado’s tobacco tax remains below the national average of $1. It is cheaper to buy cigarettes in Colorado than in Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina – the nation’s leading producers of tobacco.

We are the only state in the country to exempt tobacco from a state sales tax, leaving a meager 20-cent excise tax on a product that is producing $1.02 billion in health care costs for Colorado citizens. By raising the cost of tobacco to the national average, we would reap two-fold benefits: bringing Colorado in line with other states and raising money to help pay for health care services.

During the past three years, the 30 states that increased their tobacco tax have seen a dramatic decline in the number of children that start smoking.

How can you help reduce underage smoking and smoking worldwide? You can support current legislation to regulate tobacco and become more informed about the tobacco corporations. The two biggest companies have captured 75 percent of the market share of underage smokers. These companies also own many brands of foods and other goods that allow them to grow and prosper.

Reducing smoking in our nation and the world requires hitting the tobacco companies where it hurts – their profits – through consumer choice. If all of us were more conscious buyers of products, then we could help end the tobacco holocaust.

Because smoking is a deadly addiction that starts young and often lasts for life, Colorado’s laws should be strengthened. If licenses were required for retail sale of tobacco products, the state could provide meaningful penalties for those who sell to youth.

It is important to raise awareness. Supporting tobacco prevention policies is the smartest and most fiscally responsible investment we can make together. For further information contact Northwest Colorado VNA’s Tobacco Prevention Program at 871-7639.

Teresa Wright, MPH, CHES, is tobacco prevention coordinator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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