Fewer Idaho teens are lighting up

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COEUR d’ALENE — Today, there are far fewer first puffs of cigarettes being taken by Idaho students.

In 2007, 48.3 percent of Gem State students reported ever having tried a cigarette. This year, first-time smoking among Idaho teens was down to 27.6 percent, according to the results of the 2017 Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

That’s good news because the Surgeon General reports that nearly 90 percent of smokers start before they turn 18.

The Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is conducted each year to monitor trends in risky behaviors among teens.

The overall teen smoking rate in Idaho has declined as well since 2007, when 20 percent of teens reported smoking cigarettes within the last 30 days. This year, 9.1 percent of Idaho students reported cigarette use within the last month.

And teens are shunning tobacco use across the nation.

In 2016, the national percentage of teens who used cigarettes dropped to 8 percent. In 2000, 28 percent of teens said they smoked, according to the CDC’s National Tobacco Youth Survey.

Still, there is work to be done. Roughly 700 kids in Idaho become regular smokers each year.

“So far this school year, students in our district have been disciplined 22 times for tobacco: 12 for possession, nine for use and one for distribution,” said Coeur d’Alene School District spokesman Scott Maben. “Last school year we disciplined students 27 times for tobacco in all.”

It’s not just young lungs affected by this behavior. The Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows a connection between cigarette smoking and academic achievement.

Among students who smoked one or more cigarettes in the last 30 days, 4 percent earned mostly A grades while 20 percent earned grades of D or F, according to the Idaho Department of Education.

Tobacco awareness and education is part of middle and high school health curriculums in Idaho school districts, and there are other supports for students.

Panhandle Health District offers “Tar Wars” presentations in fifth-grade classrooms. Tar Wars is an evidence-based tobacco prevention program of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“We also partner with youth advisory councils at middle and high schools to do tobacco prevention education and policy advocacy work. This is especially effective because peers are teaching peers; plus, it is empowering for youth,” said Health District spokeswoman Melanie Collett. “This year, we are also working with North Idaho school districts to strengthen tobacco policies, procure signage promoting good health, and advocate for on-campus tobacco cessation classes in lieu of suspension when students are caught with tobacco and e-cigs.”

Despite the overall reduction in teen use, anti-tobacco advocates say it’s not enough. They say inadequate funding for prevention programs is undermining efforts to create a tobacco-free next generation.

Idaho ranks 23rd nationwide in paying for programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, according to a new report.

The report — “Broken Promises to Our Children: A State-by-State Look at the 1998 Tobacco Settlement 19 Years Later” — was released last week by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and Truth Initiative.

The report points to the 1998 settlement by the states of lawsuits against major tobacco companies and the states’ promise to spend a significant portion of the settlements to combat tobacco use.

“In the current budget year, fiscal year 2018, the states will collect a record $27.5 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes,” said the report’s executive summary. “But they will spend only 2.6 percent of it — $721.6 million — on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. This means the states are spending less than three cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.”

Idaho will collect $75.6 million in revenue this year from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, and will spend 3.6 percent of the money on tobacco prevention programs, according to the report.

Meanwhile, tobacco companies spend $44.7 million each year to market their products in Idaho.

“By failing to adequately fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs, Idaho is putting kids’ health at risk and costing taxpayers more in tobacco-related health care costs,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Idaho can take other steps to reduce tobacco use among youth, Myers said.

“Raising the state’s tobacco age to 21 would be an excellent step.”

A proposal to change the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 failed to win support among state lawmakers during Idaho’s last legislative session.

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