Report finds fewer N.D. youths smoke
Of the millions North Dakota receives in tobacco settlement dollars, a mere wisp goes for prevention programs.
Still, messages about the dangers of tobacco are getting through, a new report hints.
About 9,000 fewer North Dakota students in grades nine through 12 used tobacco in 2003 compared to 1999, when the state began deciding how it would use dollars from a settlement with the tobacco industry, according to a state Department of Health report.
Of the roughly $52 million the state received in tobacco dollars during the 2001-2003 biennium, the lion's share went for basic school funding and water project development.
Eight percent - about $3 million - went to fighting tobacco use, said Kathleen Mangskau, director of the Department of Health's division of tobacco control and prevention.
-With the funding we have received, we have made great progress. But, looking at the numbers in the report, we have a lot of work left to do, Mangskau said.
-Right now, we have some schools we are not able to purchase tobacco prevention curriculum for," she said. "We don't fund anything in the way of a youth media campaign."
Such campaigns have been effective in discouraging interest in smoking, Mangskau said, pointing to Minnesotas experience with a program that was severely curtailed in 2003 due to budget cutbacks.
Before the cuts, Minnesota spent $24 million annually on anti-tobacco efforts, including the TargetMarket media campaign.
The state now spends about $3.4 million, said Jennifer Ellsworth, acting program manager.
After TargetMarket was cut, teenagers responding to a survey indicated they were more interested in smoking, a predictor that smoking rates could go up, Ellsworth said.
Tobacco-related diseases kill 860 North Dakotans a year, a number higher than deaths caused by car crashes, fires and suicides combined.
Mangskau said attention is rarely paid to tobaccos lethality because the toll is hidden: a heart attack here, a cancer there.
In Valley City, kids are helping get out the word.
A large sign, partly paid for with tobacco control dollars, greets arrivals at the new high school gymnasium.
In addition to school happenings, the marquee displays anti-smoking slogans designed by students, Mangskau said.
At West Fargo's Community High School, tobacco dollars pay for anti-smoking instruction and support a group called Students Against Destructive Decisions, Principal Coleen Bremer said.
But only so much can be done through the curriculum, she said.
Bremer advocates spending tobacco money on providing bored youths with more to do.
"I think they start smoking when they're left to their own devices after school and hanging out with friends without much direction,"Bremer said.
Mangskau agreed more can be done.
"We would not need all of the tobacco funding that comes into the state. We would like to see about $8 million per year go toward tobacco control," she said.
With that, she said, the state could build a comprehensive approach "that could have a lasting difference in preventing youth from starting (to smoke) and helping our adults to quit."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555