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Orange County Voices : COMMENTARY ON SMOKING : Keeping Tobacco Away From Our Children Is Vital to Health : The tobacco industry denies that advertising is aimed at young people, but what adult identifies with Joe Camel?

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In signing Assembly Bill 13, the governor did what businesses and consumers have wanted for some time. He created a “level playing field” throughout the state in the area of tobacco control. With those strokes of his pen, he made the November “Philip Morris” ballot initiative 188 unnecessary, leaving in place those local and county ordinances that have gone an additional step toward protecting the health and safety of Orange County residents and visitors.

Many Orange County jurisdictions have banned vending machines because they make tobacco readily available to our youth.

Access is the key to the prevention of addiction, tobacco-related disease and subsequent death. Nearly all first use of tobacco occurs before graduation from high school, resulting in many adolescent smokers becoming addicted to nicotine.

Tobacco industry executives and their spokespeople continue to ignore the scientific evidence proving that nicotine is addictive and tobacco use does lead to illness and premature death, often stating these beliefs under oath. We cannot rely on these individuals to create a safe “level playing field.”

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The truth is, the ballot initiative would allow people to smoke in restaurants, hotels, sports facilities, workplaces and public places, exposing millions of Californians to cancer-causing secondhand smoke. Their initiative would overturn all smoking-control laws passed in cities and counties, more than 25 in Orange County alone, making it illegal for stronger laws to pass in the future.

Facts show that in Orange County alone, this year tobacco will kill 1,185 of our friends and neighbors and 1,525 new cases of lung cancer will appear.

Nationwide, tobacco will contribute to more than 400,000 premature deaths in 1994. A large number of these deaths could be prevented with the elimination of tobacco use. Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of premature death, and secondhand smoke, the third most preventable cause. No one can be aware of the statistics and still argue for slowing our efforts to control its effects.

Legislation can’t do the job alone. It is unrealistic to believe that banning tobacco sales would be any more effective than was Prohibition. Even with laws on the books prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors, children as young as 10 can and do get tobacco either in vending machines or from those who ignore the laws and sell these products over the counter to minors.

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Laws can, and now will, protect non-users from exposure and secondhand smoke, at least in public indoor areas. They can and will (if enforced) protect the workplace and benefit employers monetarily through greater productivity, less absenteeism and lower health care costs.

To influence the next and future generations, we must look at society as a whole and at education in particular.

Tobacco must cease to be a symbol of “the good life” and the “coming of age” for our youth. Tobacco use does not confer on one the ability to make wise choices. It does not make one tall, thin, beautiful or athletically skilled, in spite of what advertising would have us believe. A party, a day at the beach, a horseback ride in the country are not more fun with a burning tube in our mouths.

Cigarette advertising does increase young people’s risk of smoking by affecting their perceptions of the persuasiveness, image breaking and glamour of smoking. The tobacco industry denies that advertising is aimed at young people, but what adult identifies with Joe or Josephine Camel? What adult is fooled into thinking that a cigarette will add to the pleasure of a day at the Indy 500, unless that adult is already addicted?

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So what are we doing to change community acceptance of tobacco use? Orange County is doing a lot.

The county Health Care Agency, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Assn., the American Heart Assn., the Orange County Department of Education and numerous groups in our varied ethnic communities work cooperatively to offer cessation assistance to smokers. Health care professionals train for tobacco cessation. Programs such as “Teens Not Tobacco” train teen-agers to educate convenience store vendors about state laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to minors. Contests are held focusing on innovative tobacco use prevention, both for our youth and the families that need to further their education on the dangers of tobacco. These education initiatives have reached virtually every school-age child, including Head Start. The public in every age group and in all our diverse communities has had access to materials about tobacco both at health fairs and other community celebrations.

What are the results in Orange County? We have the lowest adult smoking rate in the state, and California is second only to Utah in having the lowest smoking rate in the nation.

Can we rest on these laurels? Not yet. If the initiative, Proposition 188 passes, all that our local elected officials and the many groups and individuals have and are doing will have gone for naught. Our disease and death rate from tobacco use will rise. More of our youth will become addicted.

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We in Orange County and the state of California are taking the lead toward safer, healthier and more productive lives. Let’s stay the course.


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