During the 20th century, 100 million peopled died from tobacco use, an estimate reported by the World Health Organization in 2008.
By the end of the 21st century, it is predicted that 1 billion people could be killed.
But the Tobacco-Free Jeffco Alliance is trying to save lives from that grim forecast. With the help of the county’s youth, this year’s “Sweet, Cheap & Deadly” youth campaign aims to tackle the tobacco industry’s most vulnerable target — kids.
“We’re now going back in time unfortunately,” said Bob Doyle, executive director at the Colorado tobacco education and prevention alliance. “Back to when I was in middle and high school, which was just in the ‘90s, where we had tobacco use everywhere, we had tobacco on TV; this is where we are and the industry is coming back in Colorado.”
Cheap flavored tobacco and “hookah pens” or vaporizers are the latest market trends and are increasingly popular among youth, according to data from the Center for Disease Control. Hookah use among high school students rose 30 percent with e-cigarette use doubling among youth. “This is a major problem,” he said because vaporizers and flavor only mask the harm.
Breathe Easy or BE Teams which are youth clubs through Tobacco-Free Jeffco Alliance have been established at Jeffco Public Schools including Golden, Lakewood and Wheat Ridge High Schools. Students take part in teaching and educating about tobacco use, organize “butt pick-ups” in parks and speak with local leaders about youth and tobacco.
“Hookah pens are really popular among youth,” said Joey, BE Team member at Wheat Ridge High School. “It’s not hard to get one, I can’t stress enough how easy it is.”
Four BE Team members from Jeffco’s public schools attended the quarterly meeting for Tobacco-Free Jeffco Alliance and reported that the use of e-cigarettes and vaporizers is “everywhere” in school’s including hallways. One student reported that tobacco and tobacco use accessories is easier to get than alcohol. But the solution isn’t to preach the dangers of smoking to teens, BE Team members said. “I think if you can make any of the information as relatable to any teenager as possible, they are going to pay attention and think about it more,” Maria, BE Team member from Wheat Ridge High School said.
The Jeffco alliance is supporting bills during this year’s legislative session including an initiative to increase the legal age from 18 or 21 for tobacco purchases, and to push for the removal of menthol cigarettes from the shelves, a similar campaign stalled by the Federal Drug Administration who discussed the permanent removal of menthol from all cigarettes.
In March, the alliance will lead the Tobacco-Free Schools Checklist project to see that schools are up-to-date with tobacco-use trends.
“The industry never changes its script and the bottom line is, it is up to the community to stand between the tobacco industry and our kids,” Doyle said. “They’re not going to stop and they haven’t for 50 years, they need the youth to start and that’s always been their business model.”
For more information about the Tobacco-Free Jeffco Alliance and the BE Teams, go to www.tobaccofreejeffco.com and click youth prevention. Adult volunteer opportunities for the March tobacco-free school checklist are available by contacting Jen Bolcoa, Jeffco public schools health education liaison at 303-982-6505 or via email at .
(Editor’s Note: Only first names of students were disclosed for the meeting.)