The Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Inc.(ACASA), just recently released their 2017 findings on tobacco use amongst 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th students in Allegany County. The Allegany County High School smoking rate of cigarettes is 8.2% compared to the statewide rate of 4.3%. The Allegany County High School vaping rate of e-cigarettes is 43.4% compared to the statewide rate of 20.6%. Both of the Allegany County rates should be alarming as they are much higher than the overall statewide average. There is some good news though, as the senior smoking rate of cigarettes has dropped for three consecutive surveys. Unfortunately, the rates of regular cigars, small cigars, cigarillos, and e-cigarettes have all gone up. In conclusion, youth are still becoming addicted to nicotine through the use of other tobacco products.
There are many reasons that can be causing this shift: price of a pack of cigarettes compared to other tobacco products, media campaigns that discuss only the dangers of cigarette smoking, cigarettes can only contain menthol as a flavor and other tobacco products can have flavors that appeal to youth. Lastly, youth may see other tobacco products as more cool and hip to use instead of cigarettes. So the question is “How do we lower the use of tobacco products among youth in Allegany County?” There are plenty of options that can be taken at the local level such as limiting the number of tobacco retailers, not allowing tobacco retailers near schools, playgrounds, parks, and ball fields where youth hang out.
Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties along with eight other counties in New York State and New York City have raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to twenty-one. This conversation is currently happening in Allegany County at the legislative level. Through the unanimous support of the Board of Health and the recommendation of the Heroin and Opioid Ad Hoc Committee, raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco is currently being discussed within the Human Services Committee.
Raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco has become popular because the majority of youth under the age of eighteen who use tobacco products gain access to these products through older peers who are eighteen or nineteen and still in high school. By making it more difficult for youth to get tobacco products, their rate of use drops. In 2005, Needham, Massachusetts became the first municipality to implement twenty-one as the age to purchase tobacco. Five years later their youth smoking rates dropped by almost half, and ten years later all of their tobacco retailers were still in business.
Lastly, why is youth tobacco use such an important topic? Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the world, killing over twenty-eight thousand New Yorkers each year. In Allegany County the leading causes of death are cancer and heart disease, which both can be caused by tobacco use. Secondly, the human brain does not stop developing until age twenty-five, and tobacco use is often the first exposure youth have to an addictive chemical. Once the brain has been turned on by the feelings of using an addictive chemical it is hard to stop, which leads to addiction, but also hard not to pursue stronger chemicals that cause a much stronger response in the brain.
For more information on raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco to twenty-one please visit http://tobacco21.org/. Please let your Allegany County legislators know how you feel about raising the age to purchase tobacco to twenty-one. Their contact information can be found at http://www.alleganyco.com/government/legislators/.
Remember, prevention works!