Youth leaders take concerns about tobacco use to Utah Capitol

Published: Friday, Feb. 8 2013 4:05 p.m. MST

This 2007 file photo shows the state office building in the foreground right with the Utah State Capitol in the background. Six students were chosen to speak Friday at the Capitol during a rally against tobacco use.

Ray Boren, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Kasia Rampton knows there doesn't have to be smoke for tobacco to be dangerous.

Kasia, 12-year-old student at Millcreek Junior High School in Bountiful, has heard all about smokeless tobacco products such as dissoluble strips, sticks and orbs.

"The strips look like melt-away breath mints, like Listerine strips," the seventh-grader said. "The sticks look like toothpicks, and the orbs look like regular breath mints."

The new products are easy for students to conceal, Kasia said.

"Since so many of our cities have banned smoking in public areas, people have turned to smokeless tobacco, but they are also still smoking, increasing the negative health effects," she said.

Kasia was one of six students chosen to speak Friday at the Capitol during a rally against tobacco use. The event was organized by the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Utah and was attended by dozens of children from various youth groups around the state.

Denzel Coleman, 17, is a football player at Weber High School and a member of Ogden's Project Success.

Coleman said he's concerned about the effects of media and peer pressure on the abuse of tobacco among his peers.

"I have a concern that there are a lot of kids in my neighborhood that have heroes … and most of their heroes either smoke or use tobacco products," he said. "When I look at my peers, it makes me wonder how many of them actually use tobacco products to look cool or fit in."

Dr. Kevin Nelson, director for the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Utah and pediatrician at University Hospital, said the goal of Friday's rally was to promote awareness and showcase the students' efforts.

"These kids get it," Nelson said. "They know tobacco is something they don't want to be addicted to."

Roughly 1,000 of the estimated 4,000 who start using tobacco every day in the U.S. are under 18, he said, "so clearly they are targeting children."

"From the use of dissolvables to incentivizing smokeless products, it's a clear indication (the tobacco industry is) trying to skirt restrictions on marketing and target youth," Nelson said.

Alex Jensen, an Orem High School senior with asthma, discussed tobacco companies targeting kids.

"Cigarette companies are no longer allowed to advertise on billboards, in magazines, on TV or anything like that," Jensen said. "To counter that, they have focused completely on ads in convenience stores."

He noted that 92 percent of the tobacco industry's advertising budget — about $9 billion — has been poured into advertising in convenience stores, and two-thirds of American teenagers visit such shops at least once a week.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, a practicing emergency room physician, said he attended the rally to warn of the medical dangers of tobacco abuse and addiction.

"I've seen firsthand the short-term and long-term injury caused by tobacco," Shiozawa said. "If you have a person who comes into the ER that has had a heart attack or heart disease, we don't ask them if they smoke; we ask them how long they have smoked."

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who sponsored the 2010 tobacco tax increase, talked about his personal medical struggles because of tobacco exposure as a child.

"I actually have had four open-heart surgeries because of tobacco," Ray said. "My mother smoked when she was pregnant with me, and I was born with a bad heart. I spent most of my school years in children's hospitals."

The tobacco industry, he said, is killing people.

"These executives have it good, all because they're killing people. I call it blood money," Ray said. "Tobacco is not going to control Utah; Utah is going to control tobacco. We are not going to allow them to have a foothold in the state of Utah."

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, spoke about her bill, HB13, that would ban smoking in cars with children age 15 and under, calling it "an important bill for children's health."

The bill is currently awaiting a third reading in the House before it can proceed to the Senate.

E-mail: mmellor@deseretnews.com

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