Tobacco use down among W.Va. teens

PARKERSBURG – According to a recently released survey, the number of youth using tobacco is down.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Division of Tobacco Prevention’s 2013 West Virginia Youth Tobacco Survey showed the percentage of high school students who reported they have never tried or used any form of tobacco has increased from 20.6 percent in 2000 to 46.1 percent in 2013.

Over the same 10-year period, there was also an increase in the percentage of high school students who reported never trying smoking cigarettes, from 53.2 percent in 2013, up from 25.7 percent in 2000.

“The data indicate our programs and outreach efforts by the Bureau for Public Health to increase youth awareness about the real dangers of nicotine are working,” said Dr. Letitia Tierney, state health officer and commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health.

“The improvements that have occurred over the last 10 years are worth celebrating. We are not where we want to be as a state, but we are seeing measurable improvements.”

Data from the report indicates 18.6 percent of West Virginia high school students are smokers, a 52 percent improvement from 38.5 percent in 2000.

Tierney attributes much of the success in the report to teens participating in Raze, West Virginia’s teen-led tobacco prevention movement, with a membership of close to 4,000 youth and 150 “crews” statewide.

There are Raze crews in Wood, Roane, Ritchie and Pleasants counties.

“The crews do individual events called commotions in their own schools and communities as well as regional and state events such as the Regional Raze Kickoff Events held each fall and Tobacco Free Day at the Capitol held in the winter. This year’s event is scheduled for Feb. 25,” said Jamie Jacobsen, Regional Tobacco Prevention Coordinator for the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department.

The local health department covers Wood, Calhoun, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane and Wirt counties.

“We are making significant progress, but we can do even better,” Tierney said. “We must remember that nicotine is a drug and it is addictive. We must empower our young people with information about the dangers of tobacco, before they become addicted. Nicotine puts young people at risk for life-long, serious health consequences.”

“I think the decrease in youth tobacco use can be linked to continuing education about the dangers of tobacco use and the decreasing social acceptance. The Regional Tobacco Prevention Coordinator Network in West Virginia constantly works to educate people about the dangers of tobacco use as well as secondhand smoke exposure,” Jacobsen said.

“Unfortunately tobacco use is part of our Appalachian culture. When I work with kids I always ask if they know someone who uses tobacco and I rarely find any that say no. They can give facts and stories from personal experience.

The youth are very curious about the e-cigarettes, but I haven’t met many yet who admit to experimenting with them,” Jacobsen said. The local coordinator said she will continue working with youth of all ages to educate them about the consequences of tobacco use, help them quit if needed, and help them understand how to help their friends and family members quit.

“I have worked with kids as young as preschool age. Most of them already know tobacco is bad and some have already tried tobacco. It’s never too early to start educating and never too late to help someone quit,” she said.

Jacobsen said the best advice she could offer parents, caregivers is to stop using tobacco themselves and talk to their children about how hard it is to quit.