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Data released at Kick Butts Day event highlights health risks of tobacco to area middle and high school students

BIRMINGHAM – Leaders from the Alabama Department of Public Health, Children’s of Alabama, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Jefferson County Department of Health shared some startling research Monday about teen smoking in Alabama at the Birmingham Kick Butts Day rally held at Kelly Ingram Park. National Kick Butts day is March 15. 

According to the 2016 Alabama Youth Tobacco Survey, in which Children’s of Alabama partnered with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Alabama Department of Public Health:

  • About 15 percent of middle school students and 37 percent of high school students in Alabama have tried smoking a cigarette.
  • About 12 percent of middle school and 26 percent of high school students in Alabama have tried cigars or cigarillos.
  • About 6 percent of middle school and 15 percent of high school students in Alabama have tried an electronic cigarette (also known as vaping device).
  • A little over half of middle school (57.2 percent) and high school (57.4 percent) students in Alabama believe that tobacco companies try to entice young people under 18 to use tobacco products.
  • Among students in Alabama, about 90 percent of middle school and high school students believe that breathing smoke from other people’s tobacco products is either very harmful or somewhat harmful to one’s health.
  • Additionally, 83.4 percent and 86.8 percent of Alabama middle school and high school students, respectively, either agree or strongly agree that all tobacco products are dangerous.

“Nationally about 90 percent of smokers start using tobacco regularly by the time they are 18, and we know from the December 2016 Surgeon General’s Report that three million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2015. The nicotine in tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, is addictive. Teenagers, with their developing brains, are more likely to become addicted to nicotine than adults so it is crucial to prevent them from using tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, in this critical period of their lives,” said Dr. Susan Walley, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s of Alabama.

“In my practice, I see children hospitalized with diseases such as asthma, RSV, bronchiolitis and pneumonia that are caused and worsened by tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure. I talk to parents on a daily basis who want to quit smoking to improve their child’s health. At Children’s of Alabama, we support parents to quit, but even more importantly, we want to prevent youth in Alabama from starting to use tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes. That’s why we are working with partners in the community and public health advocates. Effective ways local and state officials have protected young people from tobacco include the funding of tobacco prevention programs; the increase of tobacco taxes and passage of comprehensive smoke-free laws to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.”

About 30 middle and high school student leaders from throughout Birmingham attended the event. Kick Butts Day is a national day of activism that exists to:

  • raise awareness about the problematic use of tobacco in Birmingham, Jefferson County and the state of Alabama
  • encourage children to live tobacco-free lives and
  • encourage the community to protect our children from tobacco

More than 480,000 people in the United States will die this year from a tobacco-related disease. Likewise, each day, more than 400 kids become new regular smokers; roughly one-third of them will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease.