Thursday, May 31st is ‘World No Tobacco Day’. In Wrangell a group of students are working to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use. With help from the community, students are advocating for more effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

For decades the tobacco industry has used cartoons, desirable spokespeople, and clever advertisements to entice people to use tobacco. Those 18 and under are especially hard hit by these tactics. The Center for Disease Control says approximately 3,800 young Americans smoke their first cigarette each day. And 1,000 of those become daily smokers.

In a local effort to draw attention to the tobacco epidemic, Alaska Island Community Services (AICS) and Wrangell High School are working to spread the word about the negative effects of tobacco use. They’re also presenting ways to quit.

High School Freshman Bryce Gerald is a student representative for the Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance.

“I choose not to smoke because I have seen the effects it had on my grandma and I don’t want that for me or the rest of my family,” he says.

Bryce says he would like to see more community support. One way would be making all businesses smoke-free.

“A lot of us look up to older people in the community and I think they should lead by example. Just because we don’t smoke it doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect our health,” he says.

Along with Bryce is classmate Kyla Teat.

“I choose to be tobacco-free because a couple years ago my grandma died of using tobacco and I just want to live out a healthier life and make better choices. And I’ve seen what it does to people and it’s not good,” she says.

Although the CDC says tobacco use among Alaska’s teens is decreasing, K-12 Tobacco Prevent and Cessation Coordinator Rachel Woods says the high school is implementing stricter policies on tobacco use.

“Just this last year we passed the gold standard policy so that there is no tobacco use allowed in the school district on school property or during school events, even if they’re off campus,” she says.

Woods says she and a group of students are working to gain community support against U.S., House Bill 1639. The measure would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to exempt traditional large and premium cigars from regulation. It also would remove Food and Drug Administration user fees assessed on those tobacco products.

“The danger in that is if that gets extended to include candied flavor cigarillos that have fruit flavors in them, which are marketed to kids, then those could get included in that category and they would be more accessible to kids,” she says.

Alaska Representative Don Young is co-sponsoring the bill. Woods asks adults and students to contact Young and ask him to drop his support for the bill. The bill was introduced April of 2011 and has seen no action in the past year.

Working with Woods is Addy Esco, Tobacco Cessation Intervention Manger for Alaska Island Community Services.  Esco says no matter what age you are, quitting tobacco can be difficult.  She encourages the public to contact AICS about their cessation programs.

“The thing to keep in mind is that it usually takes people several attempts to quit so it’s not something people should be discouraged about. We have a lot of services for people to try again until they can successful maintain that quit status,” she says.

To find out more about quitting tobacco contact Alaska Island Community Services.