Vicki Barron: Kicking butts

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— Things have definitely changed since I was in high school. Upper­­­classmen at my high school could be granted “smoking privileges” if they had consent from their parents. There was a fenced area on campus filled with hazy smoke and affectionately known as the “smoking pit.” Cigarette smoking was the tobacco product of choice for high school students at that time, though I do remember some students who used chewing tobacco.

Fast-forward to today. Huge progress has been made in decr­easing smoking in our country, and many school districts, including the Steamboat Springs School District, have adopted 100 percent tobacco-free policies. But non-cigarette tobacco products are being used now more than ever. And, unfortunately, many of the newest smokeless products can be used anywhere and are even marketed as “spit-free.”

People who want to use tobacco discreetly have options, including students. Why has this happened? It’s happened because the tobacco industry is smart. They spend billions — yes, billions — of dollars on marketing each year, reviewing trends and reshaping their products to meet the changing perceptions about tobacco. In fact, in 2006 (the most recent year for which data is available on tobacco marketing expenditures) $12.8 billion was spent by the tobacco industry to market their products in America. That’s $35 million dollars a day. And $170.7 million of that was spent in Colorado.

The entire tobacco prevention budget for the state of Colorado for fiscal year 2011 has been $7 million. And, as the tobacco industry has continued to spend aggressively on marketing, tobacco prevention funding is being slated for further reductions in the upcoming year.

So we certainly have an uphill battle against the tobacco industry. Colorado historically has been a leader in tobacco prevention, but when it comes to licensing of tobacco products, Colorado is one of seven states that has no tobacco retailer licensing. Licensing of tobacco retailers improves adherence to the laws protecting minors and discourages minors from purchasing tobacco.

Although the battle may be tough, it can be won. The state has changed its focus for tobacco prevention to public policy initiatives. Adopting public policy is a way to protect the entire community, not just one tobacco user at a time. The non-cigarette tobacco retailer licensing is the local public policy initiative being pursued in the city of Steamboat Springs to protect our youths. Tobacco retailer licensing is proven, sustainable and will provide local enforcement of existing tobacco laws. On the national level, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, www.tobaccofreekids.org, has created an annual day for kids across the country to speak out against tobacco and the tobacco industry. The event is called Kick Butts Day and is slated for Wednesday.

We can win the battle against tobacco and create a healthier community in the process. Support N-CTRL and Kick Butts Day, teach your kids to never start using tobacco and let’s build a tobacco-free Steamboat.

Vicki Barron, RN, AE-C

Community health educator, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association

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