Smokeless tobacco use by youth rising
• In 2010, 36.8 percent of high school students had smoked a cigarette by 13 or 14 years of age, an increase from 34.4 percent of high school students in 2008.
• Illegal tobacco sales to minors rose to 8.7 percent from 5.6 percent in 2011.
• Nontraditional stores such as donut shops, discount stores, delis or produce markets had the largest percentage of illegal sales at 20.3 percent, up 10.5 percent from 2011.
• Smokesless help line: 1-800-N0-BUTTS'
Source: State Health Officer's Report on Tobacco Use and Promotion in California
Illegal sales of tobacco products to minors increased for the first time in three years in California, and the number of high school students who said they have had a cigarette jumped by nearly 37 percent in recent years.
Still, fewer California teens smoke than in virtually all other states, but the use of smokeless and other nicotine products are on the rise.
Nearly 4 percent of all teens in California used smokeless tobacco in 2010, an increase from just over 3 percent in 2004, the state reported.
In Colusa County, the percentage of youth (ages 12-18) who reported using smokeless tobacco products is 6.7 percent, compared to the 3.9 percent statewide. Moreover, 18.9 percent report have used such products compared to 11 percent statewide.
"So the smokeless tobacco is a much bigger issue with youth in Colusa County," said Rebecca Root, the tobacco education coordinator for county Public Health.
"I have been here since August, and I've been told by others how big a problem smokeless tobacco is ... so I have almost exclusively focused on smokeless tobacco in the presentations I make," said Root, adding that routine dental care will not stop the diseases associated with tobacco use.
Colusa County reports about 10.8 percent of the youth smoke. That compares to 13.8 percent statewide.
Sales of smokeless tobacco and nicotine products statewide have increased from $77.1 million in 2001 to $210.9 million in 2011.
Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health and the state health officer, stated in his Report on Tobacco Use and Promotion in California that the key to halting deaths and diseases related to tobacco use was "protecting young people from the influence of tobacco product marketing."
The report was released on Thursday.
"Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. It is projected that adult tobacco-related health care expenditures will cost California $6.5 billion this year, which equates to about $400 per taxpayer," Chapman wrote as a preface to the report.
He noted he was particularly concerned with the illegal sales of tobacco, and noted a US Surgeon General report that concludes that "for each smoker who dies — more than 1,200 each day — at least two youth or young adults become regular smokers."
The state makes a strong link to the increase of tobacco use among teens to the number of places selling the products, and where those outlets are located.
There are about 36,700 licensed tobacco retail stores in California — one for every 254 children — and the percentage of places selling smokeless tobacco has increased from less than 1 percent in 2008 to 39.5 percent in 2011.
"Prevalence of smoking was higher at schools in neighborhoods with five or more stores that sell tobacco than at schools in neighborhoods without any stores that sell tobacco," the report states.
The 2012 Youth Tobacco Purchase Survey shows that 8.7 percent of retail shops sold tobacco to minors.
That is significantly lower than 37 percent reported in 1995, but up from 5.6 percent in 2011 and 7.7 percent in 2010, the state reported.
The survey reflects all retail shops that sell tobacco products.
Only one of the 31 retailers who sell tobacco in Colusa County agreed to sell tobacco to underaged decoys in the survey conducted in November.
"The upsurge appears to be largely due to an increase in illegal sales at nontraditional retail stores (such as) donut shops, discount stores, deli/meat markets, gift stores and produce markets that may not be fully aware of the underage sales law and penalties," the report states.
However, the same report shows that tobacco stores sold illegally to youth at the highest rate, about 20.5 percent, up from 6.5 percent in 2011.
The lowest illegal sales rate was seen at convenience stores without gas, 3 percent, and supermarkets, 3.7 percent.
The report also cites studies that show children are three times as sensitive to tobacco advertising as adults, and youth are more likely to be influenced by cigarette marketing than peer pressure.
"One-third of underage experimentation with smoking can be attributed to tobacco industry advertising and promotion," the report states.
"Eighty percent of underage smokers choose brands that are the top-three most heavily advertised," the report states. "Between 1998 and 2010, tobacco industry spending on product marketing in California increased from $504.3 million to $535.7 million."
And more and more youth are being subjected to tobacco marketing online, with more than a third reporting seeing such advertising on the Internet.
The Surgeon General reports about 4,000 children across the country try smoking for the first time each day.
And the economic impact is significant.
The state report estimates that Californians will pay $6.5 billion toward adult tobacco-related health care costs in 2012, more than $400 per taxpayer.