Question of the Week

October 16, 2006

Cigarettes cause health problems.

This is not new information. Most children, teens, and adults living in the United States already know that smoking is bad for their health. Some people may even be familiar with the specific ways in which cigarette smoking negatively affects the respiratory system.

"Cigarette smoking during childhood and adolescence produces significant health problems among young people, including cough and phlegm production, an increase in the number and severity of respiratory illnesses, decreased physical fitness, an unfavorable lipid profile and potential retardation in the rate of lung growth and the level of maximum lung function. Most importantly this is when an addiction forms which often persists into adulthood."

Many children and teens already know that this addiction often leads to premature death. Armed with this information, fewer children and teens are now smoking...

"If current tobacco use patterns persist, an estimated 6.4 million current children smokers will eventually die prematurely from a smoking-related disease.
* Although smoking rates among high school students increased 32 percent between 1991 and 1997, rates have declined by almost 40% since 1997. In 2004, 22% of high school students were current smokers.
* In 2004, 11.7 percent of middle school students smoked."

While more and more children and teens are learning the dangers of cigarette smoke (and more are choosing to avoid it), the dangers of smokeless tobacco products are less well known.

"Just like smoking cigarettes, chewing smokeless tobacco can eventually rip apart your body and kill you. It's that simple, really. There's no such thing as a 'safe' tobacco product. ... The more immediate effects [of smokeless tobacco] can disrupt your social life: bad breath and yellowish-brown stains on your teeth. You'll also get mouth sores (about 70% of spit tobacco users have them). But, it gets a lot more serious than that. Consequences of chewing and spitting tobacco include:
* cracking and bleeding lips and gums
* receding gums, which can eventually make your teeth fall out
* increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeats, all leading to a greater risk of heart attacks and brain damage (from a stroke) * cancer"

While the bad breath, mouth sores, and stained teeth are enough to keep many teens from using smokeless tobacco, others continue thinking that it is "safer" than smoking.

"Oral cancer means cancer of the mouth and can happen in the lips, the tongue, the floor of the mouth, the roof of the mouth, the cheeks, or gums. It's been medically proven that long-time use of chewing tobacco can lead to cancer. But cancer from chewing tobacco doesn't just occur in the mouth. Some of the cancer-causing agents in the tobacco can get into the lining of your stomach, your esophagus, and into your bladder."

Smokeless tobacco is not the only tobacco alternative to which children and teens are turning.

"* In 2004, 12.8 percent of high school students and 5.2 percent of middle school students were current cigar users.
* In 2004, 6.0 percent of all high school students and 2.9 percent of middle school students used smokeless tobacco.
... * Other tobacco products used by high school and middle school students includes pipes (3.1% and 2.6%), bidis (2.6% and 2.3%) and kreteks (2.3% and 1.5%)."

Just like smokeless tobacco, these are alternatives -- but not "safer" alternatives.

"Bidis (pronounced „bee-dees‰) are small, thin hand-rolled cigarettes imported to the United States primarily from India and other Southeast Asian countries. ... They have higher concentrations of nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide than conventional cigarettes sold in the United States. Kreteks (pronounced „cree-techs‰) are sometimes referred to as clove cigarettes. Imported from Indonesia, kreteks typically contain a mixture consisting of tobacco, cloves, and other additives. As with bidis, standardized machine-smoking analyses indicate that kreteks deliver more nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar than conventional cigarettes. There is no evidence to indicate that bidis or kreteks are safe alternatives to conventional cigarettes."

"There is no evidence to indicate that bidis or kreteks are safe alternatives to conventional cigarettes."
In fact,

"Research studies from India indicate that bidi smoking is associated with an increased risk for oral cancer, as well as an increased risk for cancer of the lung, stomach, and esophagus. Research studies in India have shown that bidi smoking is associated with a more than three-fold increased risk for coronary heart disease and acute myocardial infarction (heart attack), and a nearly four-fold increased risk for chronic bronchitis. Kretek smoking is associated with an increased risk for acute lung injury, especially among susceptible individuals with asthma or respiratory infections. ... Research in Indonesia has shown that regular kretek smokers have 13-20 times the risk for abnormal lung function compared with nonsmokers."

If children and teens know that smoking is bad for their health, then why do they start? Some people blame the advertising and marketing techniques used by the tobacco companies.

"October 12, 2006
R.J. Reynolds has agreed to stop selling candy, fruit and alcohol-flavored cigarettes in the United States, under an agreement with the attorneys general of 40 states. The states acted after the federal government did nothing. 'In marketing these products to our youth, RJR violated the agreement it made with the states back in 1998 to stop targeting kids,' said California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. 'Hopefully, this settlement will keep RJR from breaking its word again and ensure the company acts responsibly to help protect children from starting a deadly habit.'"

While educating children and teens about the health risks is helping to lower the rate of teen smoking, the bottom line is: advertising works.

"Although smokeless tobacco use previously was uncommon among adolescents, older teens began using it between 1970 and 1985, at the same time that the smokeless tobacco industry was strengthening their marketing efforts."

Advertising works, but it is not the only way to reach teens and children. Word of mouth, peer pressure, and real life experiential learning are also quite effective.

"Today, 30.7% of high school students use tobacco. Project Silenced Voices aims to change this staggering statistic. As a collaboration of the American Lung Association, American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, Project Silenced Voices is committed to raising public awareness of the health and economic consequences of tobacco use. ... In each high school this event will consist of: * A school-wide assembly or morning announcement sharing a brief description of the day and important tobacco related facts and stories with the student body. * A Silenced Voices Taskforce will visit classrooms during the first hour. During their visits pre-selected students will be ceremonially approached, have a short story read about how tobacco affected their character's life, and be given a black shirt to wear for the rest of the day. In memory of those silenced by tobacco, these pre-selected students will be asked to remain silent the rest of the day except for speech related to class work."

Project Silenced Voices will take place on October 24, 2006, in over 60 Missouri schools (both middle and high schools are participating).

""In an effort to save others pain, several concerned Missourians have passed along their personal stories on the devastating impacts of tobacco. ... These Silenced Voices can still change lives."

Tobacco usage trends have changed over the years. Education and advertising have both played significant roles in these changes. Beyond education, beyond advertising, there is word of mouth. There is peer pressure. There is seeing the world from someone else's perspective.

"This collection of stories allows those voices silenced by tobacco to be heard and increase awareness of tobacco's dangers. We encourage you to read these stories and share them with others as we continue on our mission to educate the public about the health and economic consequence of tobacco use."

Questions of the Week:
What do you and your peers know about the dangers of tobacco use? What do you think your peers, siblings, and other family members still need to learn and/ or understand about the dangers of tobacco use in its various forms? What would be the best way to reach those in your peer group with this information? What could you do (individually or with your class) to help those in your school or community better understand the short term and long term health risks associated with tobacco use?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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