Health and Environmental Harms of Tobacco

Angela Bereznak, Clark County Health Department

            Over the past quarter century, the U.S. has made remarkable progress in recognizing the harms of tobacco use and educating the public about such harms. Youth smoking rates have decreased over the years, in regards to combustible cigarettes, however, youth vaping rates have skyrocketed in the past few years. According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, from 2017 to 2019, current e-cigarette use more than doubled among high school students (from 11.7% to 27.5%) and tripled among middle school students (from 3.3% to 10.5). Altogether, more than 5.3 million kids now use e-cigarettes – an increase of over 3 million in just two years.

            E-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug that can cause lasting damage to the adolescent brain during a critical time in development. Additionally, e-cigarettes can also expose individuals to harmful and carcinogenic chemicals.

            Kick Butts Day (KBD) is also known as Take Down Tobacco; it is the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ signature platform for empowering people to stand up and speak out against the tobacco industry. The Take Down Tobacco program is a 365 day a year effort that culminates every March with the Take Down Tobacco National Day of Action. This year, Take Down Tobacco's National Day of Action is Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

            On KBD, youth activists, educators, parents, health advocates, and concerned citizens will take part in events in numerous cities and counties throughout the Unites States. Events will focus on various topics such as: Raising awareness of the tobacco problem in communities, encourage youth to reject the tobacco industry's deceptive marketing tactics, and urge elected officials to take action to protect individuals of all ages from tobacco. For more information about Kick Butts Day/Take Down Tobacco, visit: www.takedowntobacco.org.

                  In Clark County, the Clark County Health Department is partnering with George Rogers Clark High School and Phoenix Academy in acknowledging and celebrating Kick Butts Day/Take Town Tobacco. Students from both schools will pick up tobacco related products on their campuses.

            In addition to the health hazards that cigarettes and e-cigarettes cause, they also harm the environment. Cigarette butts are made of cellulose acetate, a plastic that accumulates nicotine and other toxins from the smoked cigarette and can be harmful or fatal if swallowed by children or animals. Thousands of birds die each year due to eating discarded cigarette butts. Cigarette butts are the most prevalent category of waste worldwide found in clean-ups. electronic cigarettes pose long-term an even graver environmental threat. Because they are primarily composed of plastics and electronics, not only are they more energy- and resource-intensive to manufacture, but as disposable computerized plastic products, they leach far more chemicals than the average cigarette butt, which is already known to be toxic. Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are perhaps pending biggest environmental tobacco threat facing communities and public health. For more information about the environmental harms of tobacco, visit: //ash.org/earth-free-of-tobacco-waste/