Reigniting Youth Tobacco Prevention in North Carolina

It has been a year of change at Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) - new adventures, new hires and a fresh look at the work we do to engage and empower youth to create community change. One of the most exciting parts about this year for YES! is the reinvestment of youth tobacco prevention dollars in North Carolina. YES!’s foundation was built in the youth tobacco prevention movement in North Carolina with successes that included 100% Tobacco-Free Schools, Smoke-Free bars and restaurants and in 2011, and a record low rate of 17.7% of high school students reported using a cigarette in the past 30 days. As an organization that has worked on this issue for over a decade, we know there is still so much work to be done. The tobacco industry is driving the emergence of electronic cigarettes and continues to develop and market new tobacco products to young people.

At YES! we know that communities of color are impacted at a much higher rate than white communities when it comes to predatory marketing and advertising tactics of the tobacco industry. We also know that the lack of comprehensive policies and implementation create even wider disparities between communities. One of the most notable elements is that population-based public health models exclude the most vulnerable populations that they are designed to benefit, in this case youth.

Annually, North Carolina receives approximately $140 million in Master Settlement Agreement payments, yet, for the past 5 years, none of this funding has gone towards preventing youth from smoking daily and in turn we are facing a staggering increase in e-cigarette and emerging product usage.

In 2015, self-reported daily smoking was up to 23.8% among high school students and we have seen an 888% increase in the usage of e-cigarettes among youth between 2011-2015. According to the latest Surgeon General’s Report, more than 85% of e-cigarette users ages 12-17 use flavored e-cigarettes, and flavors are the leading reason for youth use. More than 9 of 10 young adult e-cigarette users said they use e-cigarettes flavored to taste like menthol, alcohol, fruit, chocolate, or other sweets.

Through extensive advocacy across North Carolina, YES! is excited to share that the NC General Assembly (NCGA) decided to reinvest in youth tobacco prevention funding during the 2017 legislative session. While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the minimum annual investment of 17.3 million for youth tobacco prevention efforts, the NCGA allocated $500,000/ year for two years to rebuild the work in NC to address this issue.

“The North Carolina Alliance for Health (NCAH) applauds the General Assembly for once again funding teen tobacco use prevention programming in the state. While the current appropriation will not fully restore North Carolina's award winning-programs, it is promising to see the legislature once again prioritize teen health.” – Morgan Wittman Gramann, NCAH Executive Director

YES! worked alongside NAATPN, the NC Alliance for Health, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society/Cancer Action Network and many other key partners to lead statewide advocacy to reinstate youth tobacco prevention funding. We launched our campaign with an Advocacy Day in partnership with the NC Alliance for Health including a press conference introducing legislation to fund an investment in youth tobacco prevention. "Tobacco use is a pay now or pay later situation," said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, noting that it is responsible for $3.81 billion in health costs and $4.24 billion in lost productivity each year.

Press Conference Video:

As a college student, e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine sources have become a consistent image that I see on campus regularly. My generation was the first generation to grow up with fact and research based negative perception of tobacco use. We were taught that smoking causes cancer and lung disease, we were also taught that secondhand smoke has the same negative effects. The negative perception was instilled in us to the point that even smelling cigarettes puts us at discomfort. Many tobacco companies became cognizant of this and created modernized products that mask the smell of tobacco to appeal to the millennials and Generation Z youth. Many youth are under the impression that hookah, e-cigarettes and other modern forms of tobacco do not contain tobacco. This misconception can change with proper education of the harms of these products in school and through nonprofit organizations. This will result in the needed decrease in young tobacco users in today’s day and age.

My experience during the press conference at Advocacy Day was pleasant, I was very excited to see lawmakers supporting the funding of tobacco prevention. However, when speaking to some lawmakers it seemed that they weren't seeing value in spending money on tobacco prevention. Partially because many are under the impression that tobacco prevention efforts are not needed anymore, and we know this is not the case. Lawmakers and citizens of North Carolina should band together to support the funding of youth tobacco prevention. –Andrea Boakye, Graduated YES! Youth Staff

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