Health department focuses on smoking habits in Hispanic youth
Smoking among Hispanic teens has been increasing as quickly as tobacco companies hammer out new advertising.
Nearly one-third of Latino high school students currently smoke, and more than two-thirds have smoked in the past.
In response to this increasing need, the Texas Department of Health continues to focus on a prevention campaign for Hispanic preteens between the ages of nine and 13.
The department's Tobacco is Foul Program, which has met with a number of gradual successes, aims to dispel myths about tobacco, and to help youth turn down tobacco products. The comprehensive program began in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend and Jefferson Counties approximately three years ago. It was determined that a tool to battle marketing for cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products was needed to provide youths with positive messages, and to dissuade them from smoking.
"The tobacco companies spend $719 million to market their products. They're not going to stop, so we've got to keep it going as well," said Phil Huang, chief of the Bureau of Chronic Diseases and Tobacco Prevention for the Texas Department of Health. "In a very short time, Beaumont and Port Arthur reduced smoking in sixth and seventh grade students by 40 percent, and encouraged cessation among a number of high school students through the comprehensive program."
Pasadena and other vicinities in the Houston area have also met with increasing successes, and the changes have been "noticeable", Huang said.
According to researchers, 24 percent of public middle school students smoke, while 42 percent of public high school students admit to using tobacco products.
Additionally, 20 percent of adult Hispanics use tobacco products, and lung cancer has been identified as the leading cause of death for Hispanics in the United States.
"Smoking is highly dangerous to adolescents," said Texas Health Commissioner Dr. Edwardo Sanchez. "Nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive. Once it's tried, it's usually tried again. And it often leads to the use of alcohol and illegal drugs."
However, Department of Health officials said the actions of parents can be a strong deterrent, and they continue to urge families to regularly converse with their children regarding tobacco.
"If a parent smokes, then of course the best idea is for him or her to quit smoking. When a parent smokes it is likely that the child will start smoking at an early age," said Dr. Luis F. Velez, a tobacco researcher at Baylor College of Medicine. "Parents should insist that all smoking be done outside the home."
"The decision may surprise the family members who smoke, but in the end they'll understand the reason. Creating a smoke-free home reduces the risk of kids becoming smokers, and it protects them from second-hand smoke, a leading cause of respiratory illnesses in children."
Velez recommends parents openly discuss the use of tobacco with their children, and make them aware of their own firm position on the use of tobacco.
He also recommends that parents discuss with their preteens how they could be affected by tobacco today, such as letting them know it could restrict their participation in sports, as opposed to discussing illnesses that could be acquired later in life.
"For example, let them know that it won't help them lose weight, it's not cool and it certainly doesn't make them popular," Velez said. "Constantly let children know how proud you are to have smart and healthy children who do not use tobacco."
And one of the most important ways to prevent children from using tobacco is to always know where they are and what they're doing, he said.
Funding for the program is appropriated by the Texas Legislature through a 1998 tobacco settlement. Department of Health officials plan to expand the program to encompass other counties as additional funds become available.