Time to focus on nicotine during Red Ribbon Week; recent survey at LHS found 23 percent of 11th graders reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days

In 2020, Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 21 through Oct. 31, the nation’s largest and longest running drug-use prevention campaign, turns 35. Red Ribbon Week has informed millions of kids and parents about the danger of drugs and alcohol, influencing positive choices and behaviors. However, one “drug” that may not receive as much attention lately is nicotine — which is highly addictive.

According to information shared by RISE, nicotine isn’t treated as the drug that it is in youth prevention, but should be, especially when you examine data from the recently released Center for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey … Red Ribbon Week annually highlights the harms of drugs so that children will choose to live a drug-free life. This is the perfect time to remind parents and kids of tobacco and nicotine risks so we can stop the next generation of tobacco users.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which measures a variety of risky behaviors, including tobacco use. The survey found that in California, more than 42 percent of high school students reported having tried e-cigarettes and more than 18 percent reported they are currently using them. And more than 7 percent reported currently using smokeless tobacco.

The common thread among these products is flavored nicotine that the tobacco industry uses to spark curiosity and mask the harsh taste of tobacco. If sweet fruity flavors seem harmless, the high dose of nicotine teens get when they use, isn’t.

Rural communities have long been targeted by the tobacco industry. For decades, the tobacco industry has taken advantage of often weaker tobacco retail laws in rural areas and push misleading advertising, marketing and promotions that tie tobacco use to values such as strength, independence and resilience, while using images of cowboys, hunters and racecars to make smoking seem like it’s a part of life.

In recent years, they have added new products like e-cigarettes, but the intent is the same. For example, Lassen Union High School District was part of the California Healthy Kids Survey that also measures risk-related behaviors. The 2018-19 survey found 23 percent of 11th graders reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, but only 9 percent report using traditional cigarettes. The 2019 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey also found that California high school students overall are using smokeless tobacco more than students nationally.

Part of the problem may also be perception of nicotine.

“Make no mistake, nicotine is the tobacco industry’s tool to hook our kids to deadly products – that hasn’t changed. What’s changed is how they’re packaging this drug. The tobacco industry continues to target our communities and portray tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, as being less harmful, but that’s far from the truth, especially for youth,” said Shelly Brantley, project director of Rural Initiatives Strengthening Equity, a program dedicated to combating tobacco’s harms in California’s rural communities such as Lassen County.

“Aside from the health problems these products present, they often contain high amounts of nicotine, which is a harmful drug that is basically brain poison for youth, and the tobacco industry now has it wrapped up in sweet, fruity flavors in a variety of forms to entice kids to try them, and far too often, get addicted,” said Brantley. “Not only is nicotine a highly addictive drug for youth, but nicotine exposure can actually change the chemistry in teens’ brains and can impact learning, memory and attention.

“The tobacco industry views our kids as their next generation of customers, and nicotine is their tool to hook them,” said Brantley. “We need to talk with our kids about what nicotine really is – it’s a harmful, addictive drug.

To find out information about how RISE combats tobacco harm in rural communities, including Lassen County, and to take action, visit ca-rise.org/.

To see more information about LHS, go to calschls.org/reports-data/public-dashboards/secondary-student/.