By Eileen Howard Boone
With a new school year underway, it’s an appropriate time to celebrate the country’s progress in protecting youth from smoking and tobacco use, while considering new concerns that could undermine this public health success story in the future.
The extraordinary decline in youth cigarette smoking, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported fell to a record low of 10.8 percent in 2015 from 15.7 percent two years earlier, is due to the continued tobacco-control interventions at the federal, state and private-sector levels. And it will save millions of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs in the years to come.
However, there are troubling new signs that students continue to experiment with tobacco use and are engaging in new risk behaviors, such as the use of e-cigarettes, that deserve our continued attention and focus.
According to the CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 31 percent of high-school students reported using some form of tobacco. Worse still, 24 percent of high-schoolers said they used e-cigarettes, which are marketed with kid-friendly flavoring that increases their popularity with young people. This remains an area of concern for all of us in the public health community because most of these products contain nicotine — which causes addiction, could harm brain development, and could lead to continued tobacco product use for a new generation of young people.
That’s why CVS Health extended our commitment to helping people lead tobacco-free lives with the introduction of Be The First: a five-year, $50 million initiative to help deliver a tobacco-free generation comprised of comprehensive education, tobacco control and healthy behavior programming in partnership with organizations on the front lines of this public health challenge. Since launching the campaign in March, Be The First has set into motion a series of evidenced-based strategies, partnerships and programs that are contributing to the nation’s tobacco control efforts, which include:
- working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to support training initiatives for clinicians around the country which will focus on screening for smoke exposure in the household, provide smoking cessation offerings for parents and explain the dangers of secondhand smoke and the importance of reducing tobacco use;
- introducing a three-year, $3.6 million initiative with the American Cancer Society to help accelerate and expand the number of college and university campuses throughout the United States that are 100 percent tobacco-free.
- working with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids’ to increase the number of young people trained in youth advocacy around key tobacco issues so they can make an impact in their local communities;
All of us – in government and public health, as well as parents and students – should be proud of the progress we’ve made together in the nation’s fight against tobacco use. But the rise in usage of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products should encourage us to remain diligent.
Let’s use this new school year to recommit ourselves to this winnable effort. And by continuing to bring our collective focus and resources to the issue, we can sustain the progress being made where a tobacco-free generation seems possible, and not simply an aspiration.
Image credit: Pixabay
Eileen Howard Boone is Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy for CVS Health, and President of the CVS Health Foundation.