By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for Havre Daily News
According to studies by Havre Public Schools, there is good news regarding tobacco use by high school- and middle school- aged youth. The studies indicate that the use of tobacco products by Havre students has steadily declined since 1997.
High school students who consider themselves "frequent" smokers (smoked on 20 or more of the previous 30 days) fell from 17.3 percent to 9.1 percent. Middle school students in the same category fell from 6.1 percent to 2.4 percent.
High school students who are "current" spit tobacco users (used spit tobacco one or more of the previous 30 days) fell from 18.4 percent to 10.1 percent. Middle school students in the same category fell from 9.3 percent to 6 percent.
High school students having ever smoked a cigarette dropped from 66 percent to 58.2 percent, while the middle school numbers fell from 53.1 percent to 41 percent.
Our community has reason to be encouraged that fewer young people are using tobacco products. This is particularly important since such a large majority of current adult smokers began their addiction before the age of 18. Consider these items from the American Legacy Foundation:
Eighty percent of all smokers had their first cigarette before age 18; 90 percent of all smokers began before age 20.
One-third of all smokers began before the age of 14.
Each day nearly 5,000 youths ages 12 to 17 try a cigarette for the first time.
Between one-third and one-half of youths who try a cigarette will go on to become a daily smoker.
Wednesday is the ninth annual Kick Butts Day. Organized by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, its goal is to empower young people to join in the efforts to prevent kids from ever using tobacco. A collaborative effort is necessary if we are to continue witnessing a decrease in the numbers of young people who use tobacco.
The Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line will celebrate Kick Butts Day with a variety of youth-driven activities. Kids will have a chance to join their friends and peers by signing a public pledge to stay tobacco-free. This pledge is not just made as a personal resolution, but as a public promise to their families, friends and peers. Other events include an assembly that will present youth with facts about tobacco use, including the fact that one person in the United States dies every 72 seconds from tobacco use-related illnesses.
The community is encouraged to join in efforts to prevent their children from becoming tobacco users.
Incorporate tobacco-free education into youth programs of all types.
Prevent the sale of tobacco products to youth.
Create, publicize and uniformly enforce clear rules regarding youth tobacco use.
Parents may contribute in a number of effective ways to the effort to prevent Havre's children from experiencing the damaging effects of tobacco use.
Establish homes as tobacco- free places. Set the best example as a positive role model for kids: Refrain from smoking or using spit tobacco, or quit tobacco use completely.
Remind older children that they are role models for younger family members and that many youths may begin tobacco use because older siblings do.
Provide children with responsible overall supervision and support.
If you would like more information about youth tobacco prevention efforts, contact the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6206.