Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

March 19, 2014

Kicking butts

Kentucky has far too many teens who choose to smoke

ASHLAND — School children throughout Kentucky are taking a stand against tobacco today as they join in the nationwide observance of  the 19th annual Kick Butts Day. Here’s hoping young people throughout the commonwealth continue to “kick butts” long after this one-day observance ends.

That’s because Kentucky continues to have one of the nation’s highest rates of teen smokers at 24.1 percent among high school students. Considering these young people have been fed a steady stream of anti-smoking messages throughout their young lives, we find it nothing short of astounding that one in four teens still chooses to smoke. If that number is not dramatically reduced, it does not bode well for the future health of this state.

More than 1,400 events are planned across the nation in observance of Kick Butts Day, including one at McDowell Intermediate School in Russell, where a scavenger hunt will take place for the fourth- and fifth-grade students. Children will search throughout the building in Flatwoods for informational cards with messages about the ingredients in cigarettes.

Organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Kick Butts Day is an annual celebration of youth leadership and activism in the fight against tobacco. On Kick Butts Day, youth will encourage their peers to stay tobacco-free and educate their communities about the tobacco industry’s harmful marketing practices.

This year, Kick Butts Day comes as new information reaffirms the urgent need for action. The United States is marking the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, and a new Surgeon General’s report released in January found  smoking is even more hazardous than previously thought. Key findings of the report include:

--Each year, smoking kills 480,000 in the United States and costs the nation at least $289 billion in health-care bills and other economic losses.

--Without urgent action to reduce smoking, 5.6 million U.S. children alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease. That includes 119,000 children in Kentucky alone.

--Tobacco marketing causes children to start and continue using tobacco products.

Nationwide, tobacco companies spend $8.8 billion a year to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. In particular, tobacco companies target youth with magazine ads, store ads and discounts, and fruit- and candy-flavored small cigars that look just like cigarettes.

However, while some children may be lured into smoking by advertising, we think peer pressure causes more children to light up than any ads in a magazine or on a billboard. Some  teens apparently still think smoking makes them look “cool” and adult.

However, peer pressure works both ways. Just as smoking by their friends can lure others to light up, the disdain some teens show for smoking can keep others from taking up the habit. “Kick Butts Day” can apply a positive form of peer pressure.

In Kentucky, health advocates are working to pass a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law that applies to all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, and protects everyone’s right to breathe clean air. After four years of considering this legislation, it’s time for the General Assembly to vote on the bill. However, the chances of the 2014 General Assembly approving a statewide smoking ban are dismal.

Kentucky has the highest smoking rates in the country. In Kentucky alone, tobacco use claims 7,900 lives and costs $1.9 billion in health-care bills each year. Let’s hope the anti-smoking messages they hear today will convince thousands of young Kentuckians to continue to “kick butts.”

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