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Tobacco council steps up fight

SHERRY MAYS

Each year, tobacco products kill one out of every five adults in the United States, according to the American Lung Association. That equates to more than 450,000 Americans, not to mention the 53,000 non-smoking adults who die from smoke exposure.

To slow the trend, the Gold Country Tobacco Prevention Council is stepping up its fight against teenage smoking with the assistance of 14 counties, health agencies and community groups.

It’s latest campaign, “Rites of Passage,” is geared toward educating parents of the importance of role modeling.

Studies show that children form their own ideas of what it’s like to be an adult from watching their parents’ behaviors – including smoking.

“We (the coalition) are working on legislation dedicated to tobacco use prevention,” said Sue Smith, coalition director. “There is no specific goal except to raise awareness of tobacco prevention.”

The coalition, funded by Proposition 99, passed overwhelmingly in 1988. The ballot initiative increased the tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in California by 25 cents.

The tax revenues are broken into six accounts including health education (20 percent), hospital services (35 percent), physician services (10 percent), research (5 percent), public resources (5 percent) and unallocated funds (25 percent).

California’s Tobacco Control Program set aggressive goals to reduce tobacco use by 75 percent by 1999.

Carla Andalis, who works with the coalition, said the coalition is working hard with the region’s youth to help reach the state’s goals.

“We are just getting the campaign off the ground,” she said. “There is a lot of interest in prevention and we are getting the support we need, specifically with public awareness.”

The coalition is using Prop. 99 funding on youth programs, a data center, mini-grant program, public relations and policy activities.

Smith said past Youth Summit Conferences were successful in gaining interest in youth coalitions and incentives for participation.

“The best resources we have are peer advocates,” she said.

Grant programs have helped to fund Nevada County’s tobacco prevention efforts, as well as 13 other counties and their efforts. Nevada County supported the clean-air worksite policies implemented Jan. 1.

“The program is working to change the perception of tobacco use,” Andalis said. “Smoking is not fun or glamorous, it’s dangerous.”

Smith said too many children are witnessing their parents smoke.

“This behavior is mimicked by children as what constitutes adult behavior. Rites of Passage is about increasing parent awareness about their behavior and the impact it has on their children.”

The coalition is focusing on the perception that smoking constitutes the first test and taste of adulthood.

Instead of encouraging ideas that smoking is an adult activity, the coalition is asking parents to get their children involved in activities that promote logical, creative and challenging activities, like scouting, sports, science programs and wilderness adventures.

“It’s up to parents to help their children behave like adults, not just look like them,” Smith said.

The Gold Country Tobacco Prevention Coalition is a nonprofit organization administered by the American Lung Association Sacramento-Emigrant Trails.

The coalition’s members include health departments from Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Inyo, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Sutter Tuolumne and Yolo counties.

For information, call the coalition’s Sacramento office, (916) 442-5694.

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