Red Ribbon Week turns 35 this year, and while the annual event focuses on informing millions and kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol; it also includes highly addictive nicotine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which measures a variety of risky behaviors, including tobacco use. The survey found that in California, more than 42 percent of high school students reported having tried e-cigarettes and more than 18 percent reported using currently. More than 7 percent reported currently using smokeless tobacco.
The common thread among these products is flavored nicotine which the tobacco industry uses to spark curiosity and mask the harsh taste of tobacco. If sweet fruity flavors seem harmless, the high dose of nicotine teens get when they use, isn’t.
Rural communities have long been targeted by the tobacco industry. For decades, the tobacco industry has taken advantage of often weaker tobacco retail laws in rural areas and push misleading advertising, marketing and promotions that tie tobacco use to values such as strength, independence and resilience, while using images of cowboys, hunters and racecars to make smoking seem like it’s a part of life. In recent years, they have added new products like e-cigarettes, but the intent is the same.
For example, Plumas Unified School District was part of the California Healthy Kids Survey that also measures risk-related behaviors. The 2017-18 survey found that 34 percent of 11th graders reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, but only 5 percent reported using traditional cigarettes. The 2019 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey also found that California high school students overall are using smokeless tobacco more than students nationally.
Part of the problem may also be perception of nicotine. “Make no mistake, nicotine is the tobacco industry’s tool to hook our kids to deadly products – that hasn’t changed. What’s changed is how they’re packaging this drug. The tobacco industry continues to target our communities and portray tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, as being less harmful, but that’s far from the truth, especially for youth,” said Shelly Brantley, project director of Rural Initiatives Strengthening Equity (RISE), a program dedicated to combatting tobacco’s harms in California’s rural communities, such as Plumas County.
“Aside from the health problems these products present, they often contain high amounts of nicotine, which is a harmful drug that is basically brain poison for youth, and the tobacco industry now has it wrapped up in sweet, fruity flavors in a variety of forms to entice kids to try them, and far too often, get addicted,” said Brantley. “Not only is nicotine a highly addictive drug for youth, but nicotine exposure can actually change the chemistry in teens’ brains and can impact learning, memory and attention.”
“The tobacco industry views our kids as their next generation of customers, and nicotine is their tool to hook them,” said Brantley. “We need to talk with our kids about what nicotine really is – it’s a harmful, addictive drug.
To find out information about how RISE combats tobacco harm in rural communities, including Plumas County, and to take action, please visit https://www.ca-rise.org/.