I despise the death and disease caused by tobacco use. My organization, Youth With Vision, works hard to fight tobacco because we want our peers to live long, healthy lives, and we want Kansas City to be as healthy as possible.
Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in America and kills almost 500,000 people annually. In Missouri, 14.9 percent of high school students smoke. Tobacco kills 11,000 people and costs our state $3 billion a year in health care bills.
Every student in Youth With Vision has been affected by tobacco, whether it’s a parent or grandparent who smokes, a relative with cancer caused by years of tobacco use or loved ones who have passed away as a result. We fight to create a tobacco-free generation.
Youth With Vision recently received the Group Youth Advocates of the Year Award from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for our work to reduce tobacco use and protect Kansas City kids.
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Our group was honored for our role in getting laws passed last fall that increased the minimum age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 in Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan. I spoke at a Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City news conference on this issue, offering a teenager’s viewpoint on how raising the tobacco age to 21 would reduce tobacco use among high schoolers.
I know that seniors who turn 18 before graduation often provide or sell cigarettes and electronic cigarettes to underclassmen. Under the new 21 law, they can’t do that.
Also, nearly all smokers begin smoking before age 21. Raising the legal age prevents many youth from picking up this deadly addiction. Through this effort, we’re keeping Kansas City kids healthier.
As part of this award, Youth With Vision received a grant that allows us to work on a new campaign focused on educating parents and teens in Kansas City about e-cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed, increasing nearly 1,000 percent since 2011.
E-cigarettes are available in flavors such as cotton candy and bubble gum, which kids like. In 2015, 3 million middle school and high school students nationwide used e-cigarettes, a record high. Youth With Vision will work hard to reduce the use of these products in Kansas City, but we need strong support from the federal government to make sure kids aren’t addicted to a new generation of tobacco products.
The Food and Drug Administration just issued new rules to protect kids from e-cigarettes and other products like little cigars. But some members of Congress want to weaken the rules. In fact, the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill making it harder for the FDA to protect kids from e-cigarettes and cigars.
Congress cannot allow these efforts to succeed. So while we do our part in Kansas City to reduce use of these products, we ask U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, and our U.S. representatives to oppose efforts to weaken the FDA rules.
I know we can create a tobacco-free future in Kansas City, in Missouri and across the country. Youth With Vision is doing its part, and we hope all Missouri leaders will work with us to make that vision a reality.
Jordan Elder is a recent graduate of Park Hill High School. She’s worked with Youth With Vision for five years and served on the leadership board for three years. In the fall, she’ll attend Arizona State University.