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May 13, 2009 > The National Tobacco Tax - What It Means for Your Kid

The National Tobacco Tax - What It Means for Your Kid

By Lee Staub, Tri-City Health Center

Consider for a moment this fact gleaned from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids: more than 5 million children alive today will die prematurely from tobacco-related disease. There are approximately 340,000 California youths who currently smoke cigarettes. That adds up to quite a few premature deaths. Perhaps, your eyes are glazing over when you see another number, another statistic. But picture your child, your niece, or your little brother picking up a cigarette and puffin' their way to an early grave.

Wednesday, April 1st marked the highest national tobacco tax ever to take effect. Here, in our home state of California, the tax on cigarettes increased from $0.39/pack to $1.01/pack. The media documents the fury of smokers and the heavy financial burden they now must weather, but here is another spin on this story.

Increasing tobacco taxes can be an effective way of preventing and reducing smoking among youth. In fact, 90% of smoking adults picked up their first cigarette before the age of 18. Influenced by media, cigarette-touting friends and family members, and direct and indirect marketing, many kids pick up cigarettes casually to fit an image or an ideal and soon find that they are addicted.

Because kids have less disposable income than adults increasing the tobacco tax may help some of them from getting started in the first place. So, while the tobacco tax is sometimes spun as an unjust burden forced upon our smoking neighbors, consider the positive implications that this tax will have upon the lives of many, especially our youth. The tobacco tax helps save lives.

Here are a few additional things you can do that may help prevent your child or teen from smoking:

Support smoke-free policies in your community. Here in Alameda County there is a lot of work taking place to create smoke-free outdoor areas. A major benefit of these policies is it reduces everyone's exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can cause or exacerbate asthma, chronic cough, coronary heart disease and other respiratory and vascular diseases. While secondhand smoke exposure is dangerous for everyone, it is especially harmful to children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to suffer colds, ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma attacks. But, beyond the health consequences linked to secondhand smoke exposure, these policies lead to important community norm change. For example, when kids see people smoking in family-friendly venues such as parks, outdoor restaurant dining, etc., the behavior is assumed to be acceptable and they are more likely to emulate that behavior. Secondhand smoke policies are good for children, families, and the community at large.

Talk to your child or teen about the immediate effects of smoking1. There is an assumption that youth make regarding the effect of smoking, namely that there aren't immediate consequences. Furthermore, many teens start smoking and assume they can always quit later. However, the reality is that quitting smoking is extremely difficult. Beyond the addiction factor, some of the immediate health effects of smoking include increased vulnerability to illness (i.e. more cold and flu), increased chronic coughs and reduced physical stamina that often lead to a decrease in overall performance. This might be of particular interest if your teen participates in activities requiring stamina, such as athletics and/or the performing arts. Smoking causes yellow teeth, chronic bad breath, and an early onset of facial wrinkles. What teen wants that?

Maintain a smoke-free home. If an adult in your household smokes, ask them to take it outside away from doors and windows. Educate them on the health effects of secondhand smoke exposure on yourself and your family. Finally, if you smoke and would like help quitting, there are a number of resources available to help you. Talk to your health provider about smoking cessation resources in your area or call 1-800-NO-BUTTS for free telephone counseling.

1 www.tobaccofreekids.org "How Parents Can Protect Their Kids From Becoming Addicted Smokers"

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