Sadly, better enforcement alone is just part of the solution, and more attention to the bigger issue is critical.
Suppose there was a disease ravaging Oregon that killed almost 7,000 people every year and threatened 74,000 Oregon youth under 18 with premature death. Would this get your attention?
Now suppose there was a vaccine that could prevent that disease and significantly lower those numbers. Do you think Oregon would invest in this vaccine?
Those mortality statistics are real, although they are not related to what we usually think of as a disease. They’re related to cigarette smoking. During these times of health care reform and rising medical costs, important work remains to reduce the effects tobacco has in Oregon, especially our youth.
There is substantial evidence that we do have a “vaccine” that works and reduces tobacco’s deadly health effects: well-funded, robust tobacco-control programs. Effective prevention programs play a crucial role in preventing chronic diseases and conditions. Comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs prevent youth from starting to smoke, help adult smokers quit, educate the public, the media and policy makers about policies that reduce tobacco use, address disparities, and serve as a counter to the ever-present marketing machines of the tobacco industry.
As a nation, as a state and as local communities, we can do more to keep tobacco out of the hands of our youth. Think of comprehensive tobacco control in Oregon as a vaccine with several components.
Some of these components include education and programs to prevent new smokers, most of them youth, from starting to use tobacco. Almost 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking while they were teenagers, and more than one-third of all youth who try smoking a cigarette become regular, daily smokers before leaving high school.
The addiction rate for smoking is higher than the addiction rates for marijuana, alcohol or cocaine. A particularly powerful vaccine component is restricting youth’s access to tobacco products — and we know two strategies that work: increasing prices and decreasing access.
Cigarette tax or price increases have been shown to reduce both adult and underage smoking. Every 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes reduces overall cigarette consumption by 3 percent to 5 percent and reduces the number of youth who smoke by 6 percent to 7 percent.