OUR OPINION: Youth smoking concerns arise

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi, for more than a decade, has officially sought to discourage smoking because of its inarguable, potentially lethal health risks, with special emphasis on prevention and cessation.
Disturbing new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Mississippi Medical Center shows that declines have stopped and smoking is increasing among young Mississippians. That is an invitation to personal and public medical disaster.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lead federal institution for health, wellness and disease prevention, 19.5 percent of high school and middle school-aged Mississippians are smokers, compared to the national average of 19.3 percent for adult smokers, University Medical Center reported in a recent research release.
Many people find an increase almost unbelievable. Mississippi’s hard-hitting anti-smoking advertisements plainly state that one-third of all young people who start smoking will die from its health consequences.
Experts at UMMC’s ACT Center for Tobacco Treatment, Education and Research say it “requires a sustained, comprehensive approach to reverse this trend, an approach in which health-care providers can play a key role.”
Last month, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that more than 600,000 middle school students and three million high school students smoke cigarettes. “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults” shows that rates of decline among young adults have slowed since 2003, and the rates of decline for those using smokeless tobacco have stalled completely and use is on the rise.
Smokeless tobacco has most of the same health risks as smoking.
Two people start smoking for every one who dies from this addiction each year, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin warned in the recent report, and 88 percent of “replacement smokers” try tobacco for the first time before turning 18.
“Prevention efforts have reduced the number of children and young adults who start using tobacco, but those efforts may have hit their peaks, given the current level of funding,” said Dr. Thomas Payne, director of research and associate director of the ACT Center.
There’s a genetic risk for nicotine addiction, and the younger a person when the first cigarette is smoked, the more likely the addiction is to grab hold.
Ole Miss researchers and CDC say addiction to nicotine often leads to long-term tobacco use, which causes immediate and long-lasting problems in “still-developing lungs.”
Dr. Karen Crews, director of the ACT Center, said the weak economy has caused less funding available for public awareness and prevention programs.
Given the consequences – inarguable and deadly and costly to the public purse – how can Mississippi not afford the fullest possible prevention/cessation effort?
The issue isn’t political or partisan; it is about public health, personal health and the costs, including premature death, disability and too often long-term care at state expense.
Payne said Mississippi has about 500,000 smokers, and targeting 4,000 or 5,000 a year for cessation makes getting there difficult.
Consider this: Children who live in homes where one parent smokes are twice as likely to start smoking. If both parents smoke, the risk is even greater, the university researchers reported.
In its annual State of Tobacco Control Report Card released in January, the American Lung Association gave Mississippi and many other states mostly Fs for tobacco-control efforts.
Our state must do more for prevention and cessation, especially among children and adolescents.
It’s nothing short of saving lives, and it is a public responsibility because it can and is killing Mississippi’s potential.
The ACT Center offers free services for quitting to any Mississippian, generally treating adults 18 and older. Information is available at www.act2quit.org, or by calling (601) 815-1180. The Quitline can be reached at 1-800-QUIT NOW.