Teens and tobacco

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2002

With the fine investigative reports on drugs in Juneau, the Empire has once more provided a significant public service. Perhaps our community is now more broadly aware of the issues associated with illicit drug use. Perhaps an increased awareness will lead to positive action.

One should not ignore the irony, however, in the page one photograph that accompanied Tuesday's installment, "Teens and Drugs." Watching other students display their drug paraphernalia, a young person in a blue jacket is holding his or her filtered cigarette. I suspect that student is unaware that more Americans will die of tobacco-related illness this year than from drug abuse and AIDS combined.

Few parents would knowingly give their children OxyContin, cocaine, ecstasy, or other hard or recreational drugs. Yet, parents, siblings, other relatives, peers and older friends are the major sources of tobacco products for Alaskans under age 19. More than 2,000 young Alaskans become newly addicted to cigarettes and smokeless tobacco each year. That addiction brings with it an increased risk of premature death, debilitating illness, significant financial drain, and increased social rebuke and humiliation.

It is widely believed that nearly 90 percent of adult smokers actually became daily tobacco users before they celebrated their 19th birthday. An overwhelming majority of those same adult smokers would quit - if only they could overcome their nicotine addiction. If a young person reaches adulthood without becoming addicted to tobacco, he or she will probably never start.

Unfortunately, it is probably too late for that blue-jacketed student with the yellow stained fingers, annoying cough, smelly hair, and fewer places where he or she feels welcome. What a shame. What an unnoticed tragedy.

LeRoy Davis


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