Advocacy Day: Worth the Trip to Austin

 

Every other year, our elected officials come together for a 140-day session to pass bills that are aimed at protecting the health and safety of all Texans. During this time, thousands of people from all over the state – and from all different kinds of professions – pay a visit to the Capitol to meet with their elected officials. These meetings often involve conversations that allow our representatives to hear more about constituents’ concerns and the issues that matter to them.

As a member of Texans Standing Tall’s (TST) Youth Leadership Council (YLC), I’ve had the great opportunity to attend TST’s Advocacy Day on more than one occasion. The experience was so inspiring that afterwards, I returned to my hometown of Anthony, motivated to get my state representative to visit my high school. My classmates and I wrote letters to his office and a few weeks later, he came to speak at our school. I was and still am very grateful for that opportunity.

Now, as a YLC alum and TST intern, I’m once again excited to participate in Advocacy Day. On February 19, 2019, coalition members of all ages and from all areas of the state will come together in Austin to receive information and training on important issues related to youth alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. Attendees will then have the chance to meet with their representatives to talk about youth substance use prevention and advocate for positive change in their local communities.

Attending TST’s Advocacy Day is one of the most important things you can do as a supporter of Texans Standing Tall and as an advocate for safe, drug-free communities in Texas. The morning training sessions prepare you to speak with your representatives about the most pressing alcohol and tobacco issues our communities face; the afternoon visits at the Capitol give you face-to-face time with lawmakers and their staff members. In between the training and the office visits, you have the chance to explore the Capitol, attend committee hearings, and learn more about the law-making process in Texas.

While anyone can visit the Capitol on their own, Advocacy Day sets you up with the proper tools and resources you need for successful visits with your elected officials. I believe the training and group dynamic of TST’s Advocacy Day are unique – I’m so glad to know I don’t have to go it alone.

So, if you haven’t registered for Advocacy Day already, do it today! Don’t miss the chance to join a dedicated group of prevention advocates at the Capitol on Tuesday, February 19, 2019. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

 

 

Why We Should Raise the Tobacco Sale Age in Texas


Image Source: Tobacco21.org

Tobacco is still the number 1 preventable cause of death in Texas. Annually, 12,300 new Texas youth become daily smokers. A shocking one-third of them will die prematurely as a result.

Smokers get hooked at a young age, with about 95% of smokers starting before age 21. In Texas, 10,400 kids under 18 become new daily smokers each year. And, because many high school seniors turn 18 while still in school, friends and classmates are a common source of tobacco products for these underage users. But we can begin to tackle these trends – and help keep tobacco out of schools – by raising the tobacco sales age in Texas to 21.

Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 is an effective strategy to fight tobacco use, and it’s gaining momentum nationwide. Six states have raised their tobacco sale ages to 21, along with more than 360 cities and counties across the country.

San Antonio recently became the first city in Texas to pass a Tobacco 21 law. Right now, there is an effort underway to get this done statewide during the next Texas legislative session.

With the rapid growth in e-cigarette use among young people – from 2017 to 2018, the number of high-school-age children saying they use e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent – there are many concerns that these types of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are becoming an “on-ramp for children to become addicted to nicotine.” These concerns seem warranted since “more high school kids are smoking cigarettes as vaping surges, reversing a two-decade-long decline.” Alarming statistics like these make it even more important for us to do everything we can to keep young people from smoking.

That’s one of the many reasons why we’re supporting our friends at Texas Tobacco 21, a coalition of organizations working with community partners like you to save lives by preventing tobacco use. Members of the coalition include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and American Lung Association, Texas Academy of Family Physicians, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Pediatric Society.

For Texas Tobacco 21 updates, visit texas21.org or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for their newsletter for more information about Tobacco 21 meetings and events taking place across Texas.

Facts About E-Cigarettes

 

In less than a decade, the rise in the use of ENDS – or electronic nicotine delivery systems — coupled with a lack of knowledge about the effects of inhaling their vapor (known as “vaping”) has led to a major public health concern.

ENDS devices include e-cigarettes, personal vaporizers, vape pens, e-cigars, e-hookah, and other vaping devices that produce an aerosolized mixture containing flavored liquids and nicotine. They are relatively new products that continue to grow in number and popularity, especially among young users.

Since they first came onto the market, we’ve learned a lot about ENDS – namely, about the health risks associated with e-cigarettes and vaping, the lack of industry regulation, and perceptions among youth. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know—and likely won’t know until the industry is fully regulated.

But one thing is clear: there’s enough evidence to know e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems cause harm, and we must work to prevent their use among young people.

We’ve compiled some of the lesser-known facts about ENDS from a variety of sources, and we’ve included several associated links so that you can learn more about any given fact.

Overall Use and Popularity

Long-Term Use and Associated Risks

Perception and Awareness

Industry

TST has worked with dozens of communities in Texas to become smoke-free – and now make sure they include ENDS in their local policies. We will continue our efforts to collaborate with prevention groups on their local efforts to eliminate and reduce tobacco use for the health and safety of our kids and communities. If you have any questions or want more information about what you can do in your community on this issue or other tobacco-related issues, please contact Steve at SRoss@TexansStandingTall.org or 512.442.7501.

E-Cigarettes Are an Unregulated Threat to Our Kids

Did you know that it’s still a bit like the wild, wild west when it comes to regulating e-cigarettes and other vaping products? Aside from having to be 18 to purchase or use them, there’s basically nothing in place to regulate the products themselves.

In fact, last year, e-cigarette companies were given an extension on a deadline to apply for FDA clearance. The extension pushed the deadline to August of 2022, giving these companies more time to keep their products on the market before they are reviewed by the federal agency.

As troublesome as the lack of regulation may be, it’s especially terrifying given that teens are turning to vaping and e-cigarettes in growing numbers. In Texas, 25% of middle and high school students say they’ve tried some sort of electronic vapor product, even though no long-term studies or scientific research supports the common misperception that they are better for you than smoking traditional cigarettes.

Part of the problem is that once young people start using electronic devices, use of traditional cigarettes could come next – teen e-cigarette users are 23 percent more likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes within six months of use than teens who don’t use e-cigarettes. In fact, one pediatric pulmonologist says electronic smoking devices have become “the new way to get kids addicted to nicotine.”

Indeed, addiction is occurring, thanks in part to sleek, small products like Juul e-cigarettes making their way into the hands (and classrooms) of kids. In addition to being discreet enough for kids to sneak into school, the appeal – and addictive nature – of Juuls may be partly due to the fact that they “provide a nicotine hit that’s much more like smoking a cigarette than other e-cigs.”

It’s not just the popularity of Juuls that we should be concerned about though. The CDC has also found that e-cigarette ads target millions of kids using some of the same tactics that the tobacco industry used years ago. Thanks to TV, movies, Internet, magazines, retail stores, sports and music marketing, and celebrity endorsements, young people are seeing e-cigarette ads on a daily basis. This type of exposure – along with the creation of flavored products that are appealing to youth – may also have something to do with the growing number of young e-cigarette users.

Given that a tobacco company once referred to young adult smokers as “replacement smokers,” the current attempt to entice youth with flavored products and “fun” marketing should come as no surprise. The tobacco industry – which has taken over the e-cigarette industry – knows that it needs young people to start smoking so their business doesn’t eventually go away.

There does seem to be some good news: since the FDA extended the deadline for e-cigarette companies to receive agency clearance, the FDA also has begun to crack down on the industry’s intentional and harmful targeting to children. The agency sent warning letters in May of 2018 to companies that “misleadingly labeled or advertised nicotine-containing e-liquids as kid friendly food products such as juice boxes, candies, and cookies.” (How can they not be marketing to youth when products resemble junk food products and have names like “Smurf Sauce” and “V’Nilla Cookies & Milk”?) FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that these companies have “a responsibility to ensure they aren’t putting children in harm’s way or enticing youth use.”

And yet, this is what we’re seeing…

 

 

 

 

While the marketing crackdown is a great step forward, there’s still more to do while we wait for the FDA to review these products in 2022. Ninety percent of adult smokers start smoking in their teens or earlier – prevention efforts are critical now.

It’s important for parents and kids to talk about the dangers of vaping and e-cigarette use (from addiction and harmful toxins in e-liquids to future risk of cancer and heart and lung disease) – not to mention the unfortunate reality that youth are being directly and deliberately targeted through advertising.

There’s still so much work to be done to keep our kids safe from these harmful products, but thankfully, there are opportunities for adults and youth alike to get engaged in community prevention efforts.

Consider getting involved in Tobacco 21 or comprehensive smoke-free initiatives and join your local coalitions to become more involved in tobacco prevention efforts in your communities. Want more information on tobacco-related issues?  Contact Coalition Specialist Steve Ross at SRoss@TexansStandingTall.org or 512.442.7501.

Popularity of E-Cigarettes is a Public Health Matter

 

Snapchat. iPhones. Emojis. Selfies.

Of all the things teens think are cool, e-cigarettes – and the JUUL brand, in particular – should be among the most concerning.

We know e-cigarettes are making their way into the hands of youth, who are curious, attracted to the easy-to-hide design and fun flavors like crème brulee, or influenced by their peers. JUUL is especially popular because they are sleek and resemble a thumb drive, with teens saying they are “discreet enough to vape in class.”

We also know teens and adults find e-cigarettes appealing because they still believe they are less harmful than other tobacco products. But that doesn’t mean they are safe.

Case in point: one significant new study of nearly 70,000 people revealed that daily e-cigarette use can double the risk of a heart attack. When you consider that e-cigarettes are increasingly becoming a gateway to smoking among youth, these studies should be a concern.

But your average teen isn’t concerned about their chances of a heart attack — or other major health concerns like cancer; they’re drawn to e-cigarettes like JUUL, which “has developed a cult-like following among youth and young adults, fueled by a strong presence on social media sites like YouTube.”

Still, the popularity of JUUL and other e-cigarettes should be alarming to the public health community, since we know that exposure to nicotine during adolescence can cause addiction and harm the developing brain, and that children using e-cigarettes are at an a increased risk of using tobacco cigarettes in the future.

Moreover, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students more than tripled from 2013 to 2015. For the first time ever, teens are smoking e-cigarettes more than traditional cigarettes.

As concerned community members, we can advocate for regulation of e-cigarettes by the FDA, which has had the authority to regulate them since 2016 but has delayed implementation of key provisions. We can also share public health materials to build public awareness about potential harms associated with use of JUUL and other e-cigarettes. Several resources are emerging, including educational toolkit materials for teens developed by the Stanford University Department of Medicine, a Truth Initiative fact sheet, and a Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids fact sheet. Finally, we can get involved with local coalitions like the Galveston/Bay Area and the Wichita County TPCCs (Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalitions) that are working to pass comprehensive smoke-free ordinances and Tobacco21 laws that would prevent anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing tobacco products.

If you have any questions or want more information about what you can do in your community on this issue or other tobacco-related issues, please contact Steve at SRoss@TexansStandingTall.org or 512.442.7501.

Hidalgo County Sees Groundswell of Smoke Free Ordinances

“Community buy-in.” That’s the phrase Gilda Bowen uses to describe the wave of comprehensive smoke-free ordinances recently passed in communities throughout the county. Bowen is the Tobacco Coordinator for the Hidalgo County Tobacco Prevention Cessation Coalition (TPCC).

When the Hidalgo County TPCC formed in February of 2014, only one smoke-free ordinance had passed within the county. Today, 17 communities are 100% smoke-free.

“Even though there are separate cities in the county, the Valley is like a large community,” said Bowen. “So every time a city passed one, it encouraged another to take it up.”

She credits the combination of grassroots efforts and support from American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Texans Standing Tall, and other organizations for their success.

“It took research and planning from the AHA and ACS combined with a lot of one-on-one meetings to convince civic leaders that their communities wanted this,” Bowen added.

The movement built up slowly, with the cities of Edinburg, Pharr and Mission creating smoke-free ordinances from 2014-2016. Then in 2017, momentum took over, with at least one ordinance a month being passed.

Having coalition members committed to creating smoke-free communities was the major factor in making Hidalgo County virtually smoke-free. Every agenda, handout, or email from members included updates on what was happening in cities. So when McAllen had a public hearing, they had over 200 people show up.

The coalition realizes that even with this success, their work is not over.

“There will always be more work, there will always be opportunities,” said Mrs. Bowen. “We hope the community is proud and will take ownership of some projects to continue working on enforcement and implementation.”

Texans Standing Tall understands that passing and enforcing comprehensive smoke-free ordinances is hard work, but we also believe that Texas cities are up to the challenge of implementing changes that help create healthier, safer communities – Gilda Bowen and the Hidalgo County TPCC are living proof of that. If you’re interested in learning more about passing a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance in your community, please contact Steve Ross at sross@TexansStandingTall.org.

No Ifs, Ands, or (Cigarette) Butts About It

 

School’s out for summer. For many families, spending more time outdoors is a big part of their summertime agenda.

Our Texas parks and beaches are at peak demand for the next several weeks, so it’s a good time to remind everyone about outdoor smoke-free ordinances and why they matter.

Even outdoors, children and adults are affected by secondhand smoke. Asthma attacks, eye irritation, headaches, and ear issues are just some of the effects of secondhand smoke. But it isn’t just an afternoon at the park that is concerning. A 2006 Surgeon General’s Report outlined the dangers of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, which include cancer and heart disease in addition to asthma and other respiratory issues. While most studies about secondhand smoke are directly related to indoor exposure, more recent studies have shown that secondhand exposure outdoors can be significant.

Because we know now there is no safe level of secondhand smoke, many communities are looking at expanding their smoke-free policies to include outdoor spaces as well. In addition to protecting people from secondhand smoke, outdoor smoking ordinances can also be helpful to individuals who are trying to quit smoking by eliminating triggers.

They also send an important message to our kids that smoking is not a community norm, which can help prevent later tobacco usage.

When looking at outdoor smoking ordinances, it’s also worth considering the environmental impact of outdoor smoking. Literally trillions of non-biodegradable cigarette butts are collected from sidewalks, beaches, and other outdoors areas every year. In addition to littering the earth, cigarette butts are also harmful to wildlife and can be toxic to fish. Cigarette butts are a significant cause of outdoor fires, and they cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year in property loss and restoration expenses. In a state like Texas, where droughts are common, fire risk is particularly concerning.

While outdoor smoke-free ordinances can be challenging to implement (especially when it comes to defining what is indoor vs. outdoor space), they contribute to a healthier and safer Texas. For more information about pursuing a smoke-free ordinance in your community, please contact Steve Ross, our Statewide Coalition Specialist, at sross@texansstandingtall.org or (512) 442-7501.

YLC Members of the Month: Andrea Marquez and Carlos Vela

Carlos and Andrea after testifying at the Capitol

Andrea Marquez and Carlos Vela were selected as the April and May YLC Members of the Month for their outstanding advocacy efforts; both made trips to the Texas Capitol to provide public testimony on issues that affect underage alcohol and tobacco use.

Catching an early morning flight from El Paso to Austin, Andrea spent two days in town so she could testify on her concerns about powdered alcohol before the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee and Senate Business & Commerce Committee. During her testimony, Andrea discussed why she thinks it’s important to ban the product and demonstrated how easy it would be for a youth to conceal powdered alcohol packets. Armed with a makeup bag containing 48 Kool-Aid packets (the approximate size of a powdered alcohol packet), she dumped them onto the table and shared that the packets in her small bag equaled more shots than what you would find in a large 1.75L bottle of alcohol. She then asked legislators to think about which one they thought would be easier for a young person to sneak out of the house without their parents noticing: the bottle or the bag? Her powerful testimony helped educate everyone in the room on the potential harms we would see if powdered alcohol ever made it to the shelves.

Making the drive from Ingleside, Carlos came to Austin so he could testify before the House Public Health Committee. Though the hearing got postponed, super advocate Carlos hung around for an extra day so he could speak to the benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco from 18 to 21. He asked for Texas to be a leader in the fight against tobacco by becoming the third state to raise the tobacco age to 21. Carlos also used his personal story about growing up around tobacco use and being offered tobacco in high school to help explain why raising the purchase age will help keep tobacco out of schools and away from youth during an impressionable time in their lives. Since 95% of smokers start before age 21, raising the age of sale to 21 is seen as an effective way to protect our kids from tobacco addiction and save lives. If you’re interested in learning more, Texas 21, a coalition of organizations working to prevent tobacco use, has put together a wealth of information on the issue. Check it out at texas21.org.

We are incredibly proud to call Andrea and Carlos members of our Youth Leadership Council. Along with their fellow YLC members, they constantly inspire us to do more and work harder to ensure we’re creating safe and healthy communities for everyone. If you’d like to learn more about the YLC and how to get involved, contact Georgia Marks at gmarks@texansstandingtall.org or 512.442.7501.

Andrea reminding us to make every day awesome!

Spotlight: Palmview Passes Smoke-Free and Social Host Ordinances

Congratulations to Palmview, TX, for passing smoke-free and social host ordinances on April 4! Thanks to the hard work of the Hidalgo County Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalition and the UNIDAD Coalition, Palmview became the 14th city in the Valley to pass a smoke-free ordinance and the first in the Valley – and third in the state – to pass a social host ordinance.

The city’s new social host ordinance addresses underage alcohol use and the associated negative consequences by holding individuals responsible for providing a place where anyone under age 21 has access to alcohol. Those who violate the ordinance could face a civil fine of $500 for their first offense; subsequent violations could result in fines of up to $1,000. The police department and UNIDAD will immediately begin a public education campaign to increase awareness of the ordinance prior to enactment.

Texans Standing Tall is proud to support Palmview and all of the other cities in Texas working to create positive community change. To learn more about smoke-free ordinances, contact Steve Ross at sross@texansstandingtall.org; to learn more about social host ordinances, contact Libby Banks at lbanks@texansstandingtall.org. For more information about addressing underage alcohol and tobacco use in your community, visit Texans Standing Tall’s website at www.texansstandingtall.org or give us a call at 512-442-7501.

UNIDAD Coalition with TST’s Brian Lemons after Palmview passed the Valley’s first social host ordinance.
Hidalgo County Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalition after passing the smoke-free ordinance in Palmview, TX.

PG-13 May Not Be So Youth Friendly After All

Summer is nearly upon us, which means our youth will have more time to revel in the delight of school-free days for the next few months. For many, summer blockbusters in air-conditioned movie theaters are an ageless tradition for passing the time on hot summer days. While movies can be a great way to escape the Texas heat, parents may want to brush up on what their kids could be seeing, especially when it comes to tobacco and alcohol product placement – even in films rated PG-13.

Tobacco in Movies
Parents and youth may be surprised to learn that movies with smoking are a big influence when it comes to young people’s decisions to start smoking. In fact, the 2012 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report establishes that there is a “causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.”

For years, the tobacco industry spent millions of dollars getting their brands on screen to promote their products. Though the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement prohibited tobacco placement in entertainment accessible to kids, young people continue to see smoking in youth-rated films. According to research conducted at the University of California Center for Tobacco Research Control and Education, from 2002 to 2015, nearly half (46%) of the top-grossing movies in the U.S. were rated PG-13. Of those, approximately 6 out of every 10 movies (59%) showed smoking or some other form of tobacco use.

Smoke Free Movies, an organization started by tobacco policy and research guru Stanton A. Glantz, has found that “smoking in movies kills in real life.” The organization hopes to reduce young audiences’ exposure to smoking in movies and create counter-incentives to keep the tobacco industry out of entertainment media. Smoke Free Movies suggests five evidence-based policies to reduce adolescents’ exposure to tobacco onscreen and to reduce tobacco addiction, disease, and death overall:

  1. Give an R-rating to any future film that shows or implies tobacco use.
  2. Certify that nobody associated with a production received a payoff for including tobacco depictions.
  3. Require that studios and theaters run strong anti-smoking ads immediately before any production that has any tobacco presence.
  4. Stop identifying tobacco brands in any scenes of a media production.
  5. End public subsidies for any productions that include tobacco imagery.

Looking at the first policy alone, Smoke Free Movies says that “one little letter will save a million lives.” The way movies are currently rated, the organization estimates that movies with smoking will cause 6.4 million children and teens to become smokers, and it will result in 2 million smoking deaths among that same group. However, their research shows that an R-rating would essentially cut both of those numbers in half by keeping 3.1 million kids from smoking and preventing 1 million smoking deaths among today’s youth. Together, all five of the policies mentioned above can truly help future generations live smoke-free. To learn more about the initiative and how to get involved, visit smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu.

Alcohol in Movies
It is also worth noting that tobacco isn’t the only substance youth are exposed to in movies. Research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting shows that alcohol brand placement in movies has nearly doubled over the past two decades. Researchers also found that alcohol brands appeared in 41% of child-rated movies during the study period (1996 – 2015). Three brands – Budweiser, Miller, and Heineken – accounted for almost one-third of all brand placements, but Budweiser had the highest amount of appearances in child-rated movies (15%). And, it turns out that the brands most often seen in movies are the ones that young people say they drink the most. An author of the study says this is not a surprising result since youth often see movie stars as role models. As a result, when they see one of their favorite celebrities drinking a certain brand, youth associate that brand with all of the characteristics they admire about that celebrity. What makes alcohol exposure in movies even more troubling is the fact that the Center on Alcohol and Youth Marketing (CAMY) has found that the more people under the legal drinking age of 21 are exposed to alcohol marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking early and engage in binge drinking.

Texan Standing Tall’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC) members are not keen on being targets for the alcohol industry, so they’ve decided to use their voices to fight back. Most recently, they presented on the topic at our 2017 Summit on Healthy and Safe Communities; they are currently working on service projects to increase awareness about the role alcohol marketing plays in youth use of alcohol. If you or a youth you know is interested in joining the YLC to work on this issue or others like it, the application for the 2017-2018 YLC year is now open. Join us and this amazing group of young leaders as we work to create safe and healthy communities for all Texans!