The issue of tobacco use is not yet finished, according to Sumter Behavioral Health Services, and Sumter County can do more to prevent the growing use of tobacco among teens starting with a town hall Dec. 11.
Tobacco use remains the leading cause …
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Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disability in South Carolina, where nearly 20 people die every day from smoking, totaling 7,200 people each year, according to a news release from Sumter Behavioral Health.
"Since 1994 we have been diligently working to decrease the access and early use of tobacco products among Sumter youth," said Patricia Colclough, MS, CPP, director of prevention at Sumter Behavioral Health.
A lot has been done already, she said, but there is still more to do.
One cause of the tobacco epidemic, according to the organization, is marketing and advertising in convenience stores, grocery stores and pharmacies.
The tobacco industry spends about $7.1 billion each year to keep tobacco products visible with more than $201.6 million of that money being used in South Carolina alone, according to the release.
"Each year we are faced with clever tobacco marketing tactics that continue to attract and encourage youth to start using tobacco products," Colclough said.
Sumter Behavioral Health must use the information from one of its most recent surveys to move the community in the right direction to save youth and help adults who find it hard to quit, she said.
More than 100 stores in Sumter County were surveyed to collect information about the availability, pricing, advertising and placement of tobacco and alcohol products. The survey was done in partnership with South Carolina Tobacco Free Collaborative, South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services and the nonprofit organization County Tools.
After surveying 117 stores in Sumter County between February and July 2017, the local organization found that 100 percent of those stores sold cigarillos that were candy or fruit flavored, which can be more appealing to youth, according to the release.
Fifty-two percent of those stores also sold candy and fruit-flavored electronic cigarettes, and 50 percent of surveyed stores had tobacco advertising in storefronts.
Youth have been recorded to start smoking as young as 13 years old, Colclough said.
Other findings from the survey include:
- 14 Sumter County tobacco sellers located within 1,000 feet of a school;
- 10 tobacco sellers that are pharmacies;
- 69 percent of tobacco sellers are within 500 feet of another tobacco retailer; and
- 6 percent of stores had advertisements placed 3 feet from the floor where children are more likely to see them.
In another attempt to monitor local youths' accessibility to tobacco products, Colclough and her department take volunteers between 15 and 17 years old to 20 local stores to see how easily they can purchase cigarettes and other tobacco items.
If a clerk does sell to a minor, Colclough's department sends a letter to the store stating what happened and offering courses to prevent the same incidents in the future.
The department is mandated to do this study every year through the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act that requires all states to enact and enforce laws that prevent tobacco sales to minors, she said.
Colclough said she plans to go into more depth about survey results and talk about how tobacco packaging can be more enticing to youths during the town hall in December.
She encourages young people 15 and older and adults who find it hard to quit smoking to come to the meeting.
Anyone interested in being part of the initiative to prevent youths from starting smoking should come to the meeting, especially young people, Colclough said.
When young people get involved, she said, they have the capacity to get things done.
The town hall meeting will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 at Sumter County Library.
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