Taking risk while you're young is part of how we all learn.
Yet risk taking can be ominous for youth when the consequences pose a serious threat to health and safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct a nationwide survey of youth risk behaviors every two years. The most recent results, released in June, show that one of these risk-taking behaviors that heavily impacts the youth of Kentucky is smoking.
Our youth have some of the highest smoking and tobacco use rates in the nation. One in four Kentucky youth report smoking cigarettes currently, and one in four male youth are using smokeless tobacco. Yet what most youth don't think about when they start smoking is that half of them will eventually die from using tobacco.
In Kentucky this means that 107,000 kids alive today will eventually die from tobacco use. Tobacco use is the leading cause of premature death and disease worldwide.
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Once started, tobacco use is difficult to stop and many persistent smokers started smoking at a young age. More than half of our youth cigarette smokers have tried to quit, which is good news. However, stopping permanently can be a challenge, and relapse back to smoking is common.
Kentucky also has one of the highest adult smoking rates in the nation.
What can we do to help youth who are at risk for lifelong health consequences of tobacco use? Tobacco companies continue to market their products to youth, and new federal legislation was enacted last year to attempt to counteract this practice. Laws have been strengthened to limit sale of tobacco products to minors.
Tobacco product sponsorship of concert and sporting events has been restricted to help lessen the "glamour" image of tobacco use. Kentucky needs to increase tobacco taxes, which is the public health approach to reduce youth smoking that is having the greatest impact. We also need more smoke-free communities and workplaces. Smoke-free homes and cars reduce smoking rates and lower exposure to the toxic effects of secondhand smoke, a known health hazard to young and old alike.
It is easy to think that risk taking is a "natural" part of growing up, but the consequences to our youth remain great if we consider harmful behaviors a "normal" or expected rite of passage.