Smoking in High School? Yes, But Teens Get the Picture

It would appear teenagers are learning more than reading, writing and arithmetic in school these days.

Seventeen percent of U.S. high school students drink, smoke or use drugs during the school day according to a new survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.  Almost half of those surveyed report that they know a student who is selling drugs at school. Here are some startling facts learned from the study that is based on information gleaned from telephone interviews with about 1,000 kids ages 12 to 17:

  • More than half of high school students report that there is a place on or near campus where students go to drink, smoke, or get high.
  • 75% of 12- to 17-year-olds say they’re encouraged to party with marijuana or alcohol when they see images of their peers doing so on social media sites.
  • Teens who say they’ve been left alone overnight, without a parent or caregiver, – almost 30% of those surveyed – are about twice as likely to have used alcohol or marijuana and almost three times more likely to have tried tobacco than teens who’ve never been left alone at night.

The Center at Columbia University does not track the number of actual teen drug and alcohol users, but rather how high school students perceive the pressures they encounter day-to-day. Clearly, teens don’t see school as a smoke- or drug-free zone.

Our youth are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure—even photos of teens smoking, drinking and doing drugs help lure them into addiction. An image speaks a thousand words. Yet a federal appeals court struck down a law last Friday (August 24, 2012) that requires tobacco companies to place graphic health warnings on their packages and advertising. The court claims that the law violated corporate free speech rights. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court may have to rule on the dispute.

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Expanding Smoke-Free Communities

Our partner, the American Lung Association of the North East (ALANE), has been awarded a grant for Expanding Smoke-Free Communities, a project made possible by the National Dissemination and Support Initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Community Transformation Grants Program.  This week, we’re joining ALANE, Bronx Health REACH, our Bronx Smoke-Free Partnership, The Children’s Hospital of Montefiore and other health advocates to offer strategic direction in a new initiative to reduce tobacco use and eliminate secondhand exposure in multi-unit housing in the South Bronx.

In the South Bronx, one in five adults smoke, and South Bronx residents are 35% more likely to be current smokers than NYC residents overall (19% vs. 14%).  Not only does the South Bronx have one of the highest smoking rates in the city, but it also has one of the highest rates of children with asthma. Our work in the South Bronx is vitally important to reduce health disparities in one of the city’s poorest communities.

Our strategic action plan will focus on significantly increasing smoke-free housing options in the South Bronx, in part, by awarding a limited number of Smoke-Free Home Mini-Grants. Low-income housing providers in the South Bronx will be eligible to receive assistance for their efforts to increase smoke-free housing.  These awards are just part of a comprehensive approach designed to mobilize low incoming housing providers and increase community capacity towards increasing smoke-free housing.

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How to Support Smoke-Free Policies

This week, the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City will travel to Kansas City for the 2012 National Conference on Tobacco or Health. Besides learning from and connecting with colleagues in public health from around the country, we will be presenting during the poster session, “New York City Smoke-Free Parks and Beaches: Coalition Building and Advocacy Lessons.”

So, what did we learn from our experience? Effective advocacy includes: conducting research and data, creating compelling educational materials, building support among a diverse range of groups and organizations, educating key stakeholders, and generating earned media. We’ll be presenting these best practices as well as common obstacles and challenges.

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We May Smoke Less, But Many Are Going Smokeless

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that consumption of cigarettes decreased 32.8% from 2000 to 2011. However, use of other kinds of tobacco grew by a staggering 123% as smokers sought cheaper alternatives to cigarettes, most noticeably in 2009 when federal excise taxes increased from 39 cents to $1.01 on a pack of cigarettes. But the tax hikes on the sale of cigars, roll-your-own tobacco and pipe tobacco were not commensurate. People are smoking fewer cigarettes, and instead are turning to cheaper smokeless tobacco products, cigars, and loose tobacco. We need to address this growing trend and be as resourceful as Big Tobacco as they take full advantage of these tax loopholes.

The use of loose tobacco and cigars has increased from 3.4% in 2000 to 10.4% in 2011.  Our youth is the most vulnerable. In 2009, the CDC reported that 18.6% of male high school students were cigar smokers.  Cheaper smaller cigars are especially appealing to youth because they are available in all sorts of flavors such as grape, vanilla and even chocolate.  Cigars and pipe tobacco aren’t regulated by the FDA, so Big Tobacco can not only flavor them but also label them as “light” or “low tar” and market them with fewer restrictions.

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