Comprehensive programs aimed at preventing teen smoking
Results from the latest business compliance checks in Lincoln show that many retailers are doing an excellent job of refusing tobacco sales to minors, but others are letting the sales continue. Of 42 randomly selected retailers, 11 clerks or 26 percent, sold tobacco to young people under age 18. Mayor Don Wesely released the results of the February checks today and discussed the comprehensive education and enforcement efforts underway locally to curb teen smoking.
"The use of tobacco by children is considered one of the nation's primary public health problems," Mayor Wesely said. "Over-the-counter sales remain the most common way that underage youth obtain tobacco. The public can help by congratulating clerks that check the ages of young people and commenting to those who do not."
The Lincoln Police Department and the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department have worked together to conduct the business compliance checks, commonly referred to as "stings," for nearly three years. During that time, the percentage of businesses that sell tobacco to minors has dropped from 53 percent to the latest 26 percent. Health officials say that to be effective, the rate should be reduced to less than 10 percent. Clerks who make the illegal sales are issued citations and must appear in court.
A 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department showed that 39 percent of high school students had smoked in the previous 30 days. Statistics also show that, for the first time in Lincoln, more girls than boys are using tobacco.
"Studies tell us that one-third of the children that start using tobacco today will die prematurely of a tobacco-related illness unless the tobacco use trend reverses," said Charlotte Burke, Chronic Disease Prevention Coordinator for the Health Department. "The local economic toll of tobacco use runs in the millions of dollars annually, but the emotional toll on individuals and families from tobacco-related disease and death is immeasurable."
"States and communities that are showing success at reducing youth tobacco use have implemented comprehensive plans," Mayor Wesely said. "We are doing the same by focusing on clean air, school and community programs, chronic disease prevention, tobacco cessation, enforcement and evaluation."
In addition to the Health Department and Police Department, schools, individuals and other agencies such as the Tobacco Free Lincoln Coalition are working together on a comprehensive approach to the problem. They are increasing efforts to keep children from starting an addictive tobacco habit, helping children stay tobacco free, assisting individuals to quit smoking and promoting smoke-free air. In addition to compliance checks, the programs addressing these issues include Operation Storefront, Fresh Start Families, Teens Against Tobacco, the Teens Take on Tobacco Rally and public education campaigns.
Those wanting to be part of the community-wide effort to keep Lincoln's children safe from tobacco, can contact the Health Department at 441-8011 or the SmokeLess Nebraska Coalition at 477-5220.