Smoking on the rise in N.C. schools
Participants at the "Governor's Summit to Prevent Teen Tobacco Use: Too Cool to Smoke or Spit" got a grim picture of the lack of progress in efforts to reduce teen smoking. Statistics disclosed at the meeting indicated that smoking is increasing in N
CHARLOTTE -- Sandee Bizzell of North Johnston High School was one of hundreds of teens from across North Carolina who gathered in Charlotte on Friday to discuss the epidemic of teen smoking and look for ways to curb the tobacco habit among peers.
Bizzell, reared in the heart of tobacco country, has a lot of friends who smoke cigarettes or use chewing tobacco.
"They say it's because of stress," she said during a town hall meeting with Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker as host. "I think they need more positive influences. They know they have a problem.
"You want to know how I relieve stress? I take a bubble bath, and I read the Bible."
Her comment drew applause and even a few chuckles from the large audience at the Charlotte Convention Center. Yet in her brief anecdote, she managed to define a major cause of the problem and offer a viable solution.
Participants at the "Governor's Summit to Prevent Teen Tobacco Use: Too Cool to Smoke or Spit" got a grim picture of the lack of progress in efforts to reduce teen smoking. Statistics disclosed at the meeting indicated that smoking is increasing in North Carolina schools.
The figures showed that more than 38 percent of North Carolina's high school students use tobacco products.
"It's a very disturbing trend," Wicker said as he went through a slide presentation of statistics that indicated that 10 percent of the state's sixth-graders use tobacco products and 45 percent of high school seniors do.
The statistics back up last summer's federal report that found nearly 36 percent of North Carolina high school students smoked occasionally or regularly -- a 22 percent increase over the past six years.
Meanwhile, the number of North Carolina adult smokers plateaued during the 1990s.
During the town hall meeting, the students watched videos in which other teens discussed issues such as peer pressure, anti-smoking initiatives and the health problems associated with tobacco.
"Sometimes my mom would buy [cigarettes] for me, because she knew I was going to get them anyway," said a male student identified as Vann.
Another male student named Dan said that at his school's designated smoking area, teachers, staff members and students all smoked cigarettes without fear of punishment.
"This is North Carolina. It's tobacco country," he said. "People are going to smoke."
A female student named Elizabeth described her feelings about all the health warnings for tobacco.
"I'm not thinking this second what's going to happen to me 50 years down the road," she said. "I'm thinking about graduating from high school."
Teens have been able to obtain cigarettes easily despite state and federal laws banning sales to minors, anti-smoking activists said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta estimates that North Carolina would have to spend $43 million to $119 million annually to have an effective smoking prevention and cessation program for adults and youth. But the state spends far less. For example, in 1998 most of the money the state spent on smoking prevention came out of $1.6 million in federal funds earmarked for the purpose.
That might change now that the state is starting to see some of the $4.6 billion national tobacco settlement.
Gov. Jim Hunt, who called the summit, did not attend, saying he had a scheduling conflict. He did appear in a videotaped address.