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RIDOH Celebrates Three Communities for Preventing Youth Tobacco Use

In observance of national Kick Butts Day, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is recognizing teenagers and leaders in three communities for their work over the last year to pass local requirements aimed at keeping youth from accessing tobacco products in all forms, preventing nicotine addiction, and protecting youth from tobacco-related death and disease.

"Big tobacco continues to shamelessly target youth and lower income communities with their dangerous, highly addictive products," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "The brave, inspired students who worked with their governments in Central Falls, West Warwick, and Woonsocket to pass these measures have demonstrated their might in standing up to these companies and in helping to ensure that no one's health in Rhode Island is determined by his or her zip code."

In Central Falls, West Warwick, and Woonsocket, groups of high school students worked with lawmakers to research how youth are lured to tobacco use through marketing, pricing, promotions, and product placements in retail store settings; how tobacco products in kid-friendly flavors mainly appeal to children and teens (such as grape, cherry, bubble gum, and more); and how teens and children had been able to access tobacco products in their communities.

Based on their findings, Central Falls, West Warwick, and Woonsocket now require retailers to have local licenses to sell tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Additionally, each community's policy includes unique provisions to address local concerns. For example: • Woonsocket has banned all flavored tobacco products. • West Warwick has banned "buy-one-get-one-free" tobacco promotions and requires all tobacco products to be placed behind sales counters. • Central Falls has banned all flavored tobacco product sales. Additionally, the city has become the first municipality in Rhode Island to make 21 the legal age to buy tobacco products and has restricted the number of tobacco retailers and their proximity to schools. Rhode Island's youth cigarette smoking rate dropped from 8% in 2013 to 4.8% in 2015. However, emerging tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, hookahs, and flavored cigars threaten to reverse these gains. In 2015, 27% of high school teens in Rhode Island reported using a tobacco product of any kind. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and in Rhode Island, with an estimated 1,800 people dying from a tobacco-related illnesses in the state each year.

"At the current rate, 5.6 million children alive today across the United States will die prematurely of tobacco related illness—with 16,000 of them from Rhode Island," said Daniel Fitzgerald, a National Youth Advocate for the Truth Initiative and a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Prevention Fellow at the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH). "Tobacco addiction takes hold in the teenage years. Nearly 90% of all adult smokers started smoking before age 19. Helping teens stay away from tobacco is the best way to prevent a lifetime of tobacco addiction, disease and death."

Due to this week's inclement weather, the 4th Annual Kick Butts Day Zombie Walk through Downtown Providence and the Statehouse that was scheduled for today was postponed to a later date. More than 200 Rhode Island high school teens were expected to take part to raise awareness about tobacco and nicotine health harms to youth and to educate the public about how to prevent youth from accessing tobacco products.

The national Kick Butts Day observance is sponsored by the national Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids to give youth the opportunity to take a stand against tobacco in creative ways.

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