In an era of increasing awareness about the negative health effects of tobacco, it seems to me that we may be missing the boat on tobacco prevention in ways other than cigarette smoking and chew tobacco.
With the help of Amendment 35 funding, Colorado has achieved tremendous success in the prevention of tobacco in our state in regard to cigarette smoking and tobacco use. Examples include:
■ From 2001 to 2008, Coloradans consumed 66.3 million fewer packs of cigarettes
■ Adult tobacco consumption is below the national average
■ Colorado’s high school smoking rate has dropped to 11.9 percent, which is well below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 goal of 16 percent
■ 85 percent of Colorado’s homes have smoke-free home rules
■ The Colorado QuitLine has enrolled 100,000 tobacco users over the past seven years
Locally, we are seeing achievements being made that will help our community be healthier in regard to tobacco use. One recent accomplishment has been the adoption of a 100 percent tobacco-free campus at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
However, tobacco in any form is not a healthy product and much of the marketing from tobacco companies and retailers is targeted toward youths, ensuring an ongoing consumer base. Once addicted, they may continue to purchase and use tobacco for a lifetime. Smokeless tobacco may not impose secondhand smoke on others, but it carries many of the same risks to the user as cigarettes. And the growing number of hookah bars in our country is introducing our youths to yet another way of possibly developing a long-term struggle with tobacco use.
As a community, our best defense and method of prevention is awareness and education for ourselves and especially our youths. Did you know that there are many additional tobacco products available in our local marketplace? These products are “sold cold,” “spitless,” flavored in “yummy” flavors, and the packages are very appealing to males and females alike. The common component to all of these products is that they contain nicotine, are highly addictive, and can kill you if used as directed.
As for smoking, whether it be cigarettes, cigars, natural cigarettes or hookah, there is no safe form of smoking. Even all natural herbal cigarettes produce harmful toxins when they burn and emit smoke. According to the CDC, during a one-hour hookah session, a hookah smoker may inhale 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette. The American Lung Association has released a statement that “smoking hookah is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.” Think of smoking as smoking, no matter what the form. And secondhand or even thirdhand smoke exposures are proven environmental health hazards.
As a community health educator and registered nurse, I work with individuals who struggle to end their addiction to nicotine and see the damage that has been caused. I have never had a person tell me that if given a chance to go back in time, they would ever start to use tobacco products again. Our youths have the opportunity to never start. If they never start, they will never have to quit. What an awesome gift we will be giving our children, our future generations.
Tobacco is not a benign product in any form. As a community, we can help undo the damage that can be caused by tobacco. Early education to our youths and awareness for us all can change and improve all of our lives.
Community health educator, Tobacco Education and Prevention Program, Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association