KINGMAN - After successfully lobbying Kingman City Council earlier this year, the Kingman Youth Coalition Beating Up Teen Tobacco has moved up to meeting with the United States Senate.
A local high school student and coalition member had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain in July about protecting youth from currently unregulated tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes and cigars.
Victoria Davis, 17, of Kingman, was in Washington, D.C., to participate in an anti-tobacco leadership training organized by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Twenty-six youth advocates from 20 states participated in the Youth Advocacy Symposium, a series of skills-building workshops on leadership, advocacy and communications.
During the week, Victoria met with Flake and McCain, both Arizona Republicans, to discuss the tobacco companies' latest products and marketing strategies targeting youth.
"Because of the work that we do through KYCBUTT - educating our community, passing our smoke-free parks policy, being able to get the smoke free vehicles policy - I was chosen to go to Washington, D.C., to work with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids," said Davis via email. "KYCBUTT allowed me to become active in my community through educating, policy work, and community service, and gave me the resources I needed to help make a change."
Davis was part of the committee from the anti-tobacco coalition that successfully lobbied for a new ordinance for Kingman. That ordinance, which took effect June 18, bans smoking in cars, including e-cigarettes, with a minor present.
The move was controversial, and several people in the business of e-cigarettes unsuccessfully urged the council to leave e-cigs out of the ordinance, arguing that electronic vapor devices actually help people quit smoking cigarettes.
"We are not big tobacco," said Curtis Valdez, owner of Creative Vapor off of Stockton Hill Road in Kingman. "We are about tobacco-harm reduction.
"I commend them for doing this. It's awesome. If they would strike out vapor products, we would support it. Unfortunately, they are trying to group us all in together, and we couldn't be more different."
Valdez also said that his products are oil-based and contain four chemicals, versus the thousands found in cigarettes, and that through vaping he's seen many customers drop cigarettes and nicotine completely.
Youth advocates much like Davis asked lawmakers to support the FDA's efforts to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars and vapor products like those sold at Creative Vapor. The advocates asked lawmakers to reject proposals before Congress that would weaken the FDA's authority over these products.
New issues have arisen with the emerging e-cigarette and cigar markets. The concern is that these products come in a variety of candy and fruit flavors, and that companies are marketing them to youth.
"I was able to speak to our Senate in order to inform them on our need to research and regulate these products," said Davis. "Not for the sake of making it harder to buy tobacco products, but in order to properly inform and protect those who are currently or plan on using these products in the future."
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a recent government survey shows that the use of e-cigarettes among U.S. high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014 (4.5 percent to 13.4 percent) and now exceeds use of regular cigarettes. The survey also found high school boys now smoke cigars at the same rate as cigarettes (10.8 percent for cigars and 10.6 percent for cigarettes).
The FDA is finalizing regulations for these products. However, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee forwarded a proposal that would restrict the FDA's authority to review e-cigarettes and cigars already on the market.
Health advocates are urging Congress to reject this proposal.
"These young leaders are helping make the next generation tobacco-free," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "They speak from experience about tobacco products and marketing that target youth. Elected leaders should stand with them and support strong action to protect our nation's children from tobacco addiction."
For more information KYCBUTT and what Kingman and Mohave County are doing to combat youth tobacco use, contact Annie Meredith at (928)753-0794 ext. 4360.