Parents: Beware of nicotine posing as candy and alcohol that tastes like punch.
That's the combined heads-up given this week by the state Department of Health and a grass-roots parents group trying to quell underage drinking and tobacco use.
Smoking and other uses of tobacco products continue to decline, but nicotine is coming at children in breath mints, candy and toothpicks, said Amy Sands, program manager for the health department's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
"The products are designed to make tobacco addiction more accessible as well as to promote the dual use of cigarettes and smokeless products, creating an even stronger addiction," she said.
ParentsEmpowered.org kicked off the fourth year of its ongoing public awareness campaign against underage drinking Thursday with some good news.
Statewide averages for underage drinking are down across all grade levels for lifetime use, including use within a 30-day time frame and binge drinking in general, according to the Student Health and Risk Prevention survey.
The survey also found that teens cited parents' disapproval of alcohol in general as the main reason they don't drink.
The survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, also found an average 4 percent reduction in drinking among teens over the past two years and across every high school grade. That means about:
11,260 fewer Utah children reporting ever trying alcohol in their lifetimes.
5,520 fewer have used alcohol in the past 30 days in the last two years.
2,600 fewer underage binge/heavy drinkers in Utah than two years ago.
While most Utah parents don't drink, 65 percent of them generally agree their child could be exposed to alcohol.
"This is significant since many Utah parents often erroneously believe their children are insulated from the dangers of underage drinking because of their upbringing and their children don't need parents' help to stay alcohol-free," said Parents Empowered spokeswoman Sherri Clark.
Parents should continue to be vigilant about tobacco products as well, said Sands, adding "there is no safe tobacco product," and in any ingested form tobacco causes heart and other organ diseases, cancer and death.
Sands specifically outed Camel Snus, a smokeless — and with the added attraction of being spitless — tobacco in tea bag-type pouches touting refreshing flavors such as "frost," now available in convenience stores.
With its "pleasure for whatever" slogan and concealable size, kids can easily take it into the classroom, she said. It also comes in a container shaped like a cell phone.
There's something particularly insidious about hiding the most addictive element in tobacco in candy, said Dr. Ellie Brownstein, a University of Utah Health Care pediatrician.
Because the products have arrived so quickly, not much is know about them, she said. But so-called "dissolvables" have three times the nicotine, and contain cinnamaldehyde, a toxic insecticide, fungicide, corrosion inhibitor and severe skin irritant. Coumarin, a food additive the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned in 1978 and was removed from cigarettes in 1997, also has been found in the product.
Losing 400,000 smokers a year, the tobacco industry is busy figuring out ways to promote products to have an ever-young market, Sands said, noting that adults trying to quit shouldn't be fooled into thinking they can be used to help them get off nicotine.
"Ironically, the cake mix in your cupboard is more regulated than these new smokeless products, which are known to be addictive and destructive," she said. "We, and our children, are to be human guinea pigs in the tobacco industry's pursuit of profits. The only way to eliminate risk is to quit or never start."