Publication:Chattanooga Times Free Press; Date: ; Section:Southeast Tenn.; Page:21


Bradley County targets tobacco use by young people

By Randall Higgins Cleveland Bureau

    CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Some community leaders here are concerned about the rate of smoking among young people.

    There are no specific figures for Bradley County, but local American Cancer Society representative Vangie Ruth said 27 percent of Tennessee’s middle and high school students use tobacco in some form.

    Patrick Reynolds, nationally known anti-smoking advocate and grandson of tobacco company founder R.J. Reynolds, came here Tuesday to speak to concerned adults and students.

    His visit was arranged through the Bradley County Health Council, Cleveland Community Hospital, Life Care Centers of America and the American Cancer Society.

    Mrs. Ruth said several factors account for high tobacco use among Tennessee teens.

    "Obviously, media portrayal of tobacco is a part of the problem," she said. "And access to tobacco in Tennessee is definitely a factor."

    She said not all sales outlets are strict about asking for ID before selling tobacco.

    The local chapter of the American Cancer Society and the Bradley County Health Council earlier this year asked both the Cleveland City Council and the Bradley County Commission to support state legislation to allow local control of tobacco sales.

    The state currently has what are called pre-emptive laws, in which the state legislature sets all tobacco laws.

    "If we repeal pre-emption so that we have local control over tobacco, we can pass some laws that will impact youth in a positive way," Ms. Ruth said.

    Several pre-emptive bills are already before the legislature, she said, and more are expected by the time it convenes in January.

    Jodi Riggins, chairman of the Bradley County Health Council, said city and county government have approved resolutions supporting repeal of pre-emption. So have other governments in the area, including Hamilton County and the city of Athens, Tenn., she said.

    "There are 44 signed resolutions from municipalities and counties across the state," Ms. Riggins said. "That makes up about 55 percent of the population."

    Smoking-related illnesses affect local health and the economy, she said.

    The Health Council already has organized strong programs dealing with breast cancer and public access to health care, and it is concerned about children’s health issues, she said.

    In his speech Tuesday at Life Care Centers of America headquarters, Mr. Reynolds said apathy hinders attempts to reduce tobacco use.

    Mr. Reynolds, who is not an heir to the family business, founded a national organization aimed at ending tobacco use. Today’s children need to hear the anti-tobacco message, he said, as well as messages about using alcohol and drugs.

    "One of the top items on the agenda of the health care community is to repeal pre-emption," Mr. Reynolds said. "So at least local citizens in Chattanooga or Cleveland could ban smoking in restaurants and bars if they wanted to."

    Citing a growing number of smoke-free workplaces and public spaces, Mr. Reynolds called public smoking bans "an idea whose time has come."

    E-mail Randall Higgins at rhiggins@timesfreepress.com TO LEARN MORE For more information, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org.