Written by David Shivers
Albany, Ga – The best way to prevent cancer from smoking is to intervene when smokers are young or even before they start, and Cancer Coalition of South Georgia is on a mission to do just that.Kimberly Scott, education coordinator for the coalition, brought the weekly program for the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County on March 18, and she presented some startling statistics regarding teen smoking patterns as well as potential future effects.
According to information she presented, tobacco use costs adult Georgians approximately $1.8 billion in direct healthcare costs. Smoking costs Georgians $7.5 billion a year in lost earnings from early death and disability. The main causes of death linked to tobacco use in Georgia are cancer (42 percent) cardiovascular disease (32 percent) and respiratory disease 26 percent). Lung cancer accounts for almost 80 percent of all smoking-related cancer deaths in the state annually.
A recent study (the Georgia Student Health Survey for 2011-12) showed that some 38,000 Georgia middle school students use tobacco, 22,000 by smoking cigarettes. A total of 93,000 Georgia high school students reported tobacco use with 68,000 smoking cigarettes.
Scott said some teens believe chewing tobacco or snuff are safer alternatives to smoking, but that’s not true.
What smokers may not realize is what they are taking into their lungs. Tobacco smoke, she reported, contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 substances – including cancer-causing agents, toxic metals, and poisonous gases – hundreds of them toxic and 70 directly linked to cancer.
The overall goals of the coalition’s tobacco control projects are preventing initial tobacco use in youths, decreasing exposure to second-hand smoke, and increasing tobacco cession in all smokers.
The Georgia Student Health Survey found that 8.6 percent of 6th to 12th graders had used tobacco in the last 30 days. In Dougherty County it was 8 percent and Lee County 13.4 percent. Dougherty County teens reported that the top three places they used tobacco were at home, at a friend’s home, and in a car. The top three times they used were on weekends and on the way to and from school.
Second-hand smoke is defined as having two sources: side stream smoke, or smoke given off by burning cigarette or cigar; and mainstream smoke, the smoke exhaled by a smoker.
According to Scott, there is no safe level of second-hand smoke. Exposure has been linked with increased respiratory illness rates in children and is responsible for 150,000 to 300,000 serious respiratory ailments annually in young children. It also increases the risk of asthma in children who didn’t previously have it.
The South Georgia Cancer Coalition is tackling the youth smoking issue through community adult and youth tobacco initiatives; community assessments, focus groups, and key informant interviews; and adoption of model tobacco-free policies in schools, parks and recreation facilities, city or county –owned government facilities, businesses, and others.
Through youth focus groups it was determined that cigarette bootleggers make cigarettes easily accessible to youth, often by selling them single cigarettes. Also contributing to tobacco use is lack of recreational facilities, a generational/cultural norm of tobacco use (having parents who smoke, for instance). Some youths even reported parents, grandparents, or other close family or friends buying cigarettes for them.
Georgia is one of only two states in the nation (the other being Wyoming) without a statewide tobacco-free school policy, although many individual systems, including Dougherty County, do prohibit tobacco use. Such a policy bans the use of tobacco products on the campus of any school, including sporting events, off-campus school-sponsored activities, and inside school-owned vehicles at any time.
Scott concluded her program by highlighting assistance available to quit tobacco use through the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week and will provide free personalized counseling and nicotine replacement therapy to any Georgia resident. Information can also be found at the website livehealthygeorgia.org.