Arizona among best for youth tobacco prevention


Arizona is one of the better states in the nation when it comes to preventing  tobacco use among 12- to 25-year-olds, according to a report released Thursday  by the U.S. surgeon general.
The state has one of the lowest rates for  minors using smokeless tobacco, the report said, and is in a group of 11 states  with the lowest rate of cigarette use by 18- to 25-year-olds.
The report  had particular praise for anti-tobacco efforts in Utah and California, where  youth smoking rates between 2006 and 2010 were less than 25 percent and less  than 30 percent, respectively. Arizona’s rate of young adult smokers during the  same period was between 30 and 35 percent, along with eight other  states.
But Arizona has made “some progress” in the level of youth  tobacco consumption, said Wayne Tormala, chief of the tobacco and chronic  disease bureau for the Arizona Department of Health Services, even though he  admitted more needs to be done.

He said Arizona has mirrored the nation,  where steady declines in tobacco use by youths and young adults that began in  1997 have slowed or stalled in recent years.
Despite the progress in  cutting tobacco use — in addition to the relatively low number of young smokers,  the number of youth using smokeless tobacco in Arizona hovers around 1 percent — Tormala said there are still areas that need improvement. That is particularly  true of efforts to stop young people from experimenting with tobacco in the  first place.
For each of the roughly 1,200 smoking-related deaths every  day, at least two youths or young adults become regular smokers, a rate the  report calls a “pediatric epidemic.” It said that 88 percent of adult smokers  start by age 18 and 99 percent start by age 26.

“For many youth, it’s the  beginning of a lifetime commitment — by the way, it would be a much shorter  life,” Tormala said. “Most youth, if they’re smoking, are convinced they’ll quit  before they become adults.”

He said Arizona spent more than $15 million  last year on tobacco control and prevention, about one-third of which went  toward prevention efforts such as the state’s Venomocity campaign, which targets  youth prevention by focusing on nicotine addiction. Tormala said there are plans  to increase prevention funding this year.
But some say Arizona could do  more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that  Arizona spend $68.1 million on tobacco prevention and control in fiscal 2012,  compared with the $18 million actually spent — numbers that earned the state a  grade of F in the American Lung Association’s annual report.

Bill  Pfeifer, president and CEO of American Lung Association of the Southwest, said  the state “could be and should be doing a lot better.”
“I’m sure the  state health department feels they have been doing a good job,” Pfeifer said. “But we could probably argue that if they had an extra $20 million, they could  be even more effective.”

Tormala called the CDC’s spending recommendation  appreciated but unrealistic.

“The big issue nationally is that so many  states have had their budgets cut, so the levels of (tobacco-control) program  activity in both youth and adults have really been cut drastically. We have not  experienced dramatic cuts.”

Arizona is one of a few states with a  tobacco-control program funded by a voter-approved tobacco tax: $2 per pack of  cigarettes.
Tormala said the “one-two punch” of raising the cost of  smoking and sending that money toward prevention has proven to be successful.  But he noted that as the state cuts tobacco use, there will be less cigarette  tax money coming in for tobacco-control funding.

Pfeifer said the tobacco  tax has helped, along with a 2006 law banning smoking in enclosed public places  and workplaces, but that the state needs to keep moving forward.
“We’re  really proud of what we were able to accomplish in Arizona over the years, but  the last thing we want to do is rest. It (tobacco use) can easily rear its ugly  head … We need to not let up.”

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