(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina parents strongly favor making tobacco use prevention a higher priority across the state, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study shows.
More than 90 percent of parents surveyed thought it very important for policymakers to take more steps to prevent and reduce tobacco use among N.C. children and adolescents, the study found.
"Over 85 percent of parents asked strongly supported making schools 100 percent tobacco free," said Dr. Adam O. Goldstein, associate professor of family medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and director of its Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program. "Almost 85 percent also favored making all indoor recreational areas and fast-food restaurants tobacco free."
The new research was based on data from the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics, which monitors residents' healthy and unhealthy behaviors statewide. Specifically, the information came from the center's latest surveillance system, the Child Health Assessment and Monitoring Program (CHAMP), begun this year to measure health characteristics of children from birth to age 17. Topics covered in the survey include breast feeding, health care access, oral, mental and physical health, nutrition, physical activity and parents' opinions about tobacco, obesity and other issues.
"While North Carolina remains the largest tobacco-producing state in the country, this data shows policy-makers that the great majority of North Carolina families support stronger regulations on tobacco," Goldstein said.
Over two-thirds of respondents supported a boost in the state excise tax on cigarettes as a way to reduce youth tobacco use, he said. The current N.C. budget supports a 25-cent increase in the tobacco excise tax, with an additional 5 cents by July 2006.
"Families support legislation that raises the tobacco excise tax, support steps to boost protection from second-hand smoke exposure and support investment of tobacco settlement money to prevent adolescent tobacco use," Goldstein said.
The UNC study aimed at gauging, through telephone interviews, how parents of children under age 18 felt about tobacco-related issues. Some 1,450 parents or guardians completed the CHAMP survey. Half were male, 72 percent were white, 44 percent were college graduates, and 30 percent had a child under age 5.
Just over 20 percent of parents of high school students said that their child had never smoked, and only 5.6 percent reported that their children currently smoked cigarettes, Goldstein said. About 97 percent said they felt well-prepared to talk to their children about ways to reduce the chances of smoking. More than eight in 10 reported talking at least once a month about the dangers of tobacco use. Findings were consistent regardless of gender, race, education level or their child's age.
Included were questions about awareness of North Carolina's first tobacco-use prevention media campaign, "Toabacco.Reality.Unfiltered." The campaign, begun in 2003 on radio and in 2004 on statewide television, targets N.C. youth ages 11-17.
About a third of parents reported noticing the media campaign at least three times in the past year. Almost 60 percent of parents said they had seen or heard about the TRU anti-tobacco media campaign at least once.
"The extent of parental awareness of the TRU campaign in North Carolina is perhaps a little surprising, but reassuring in many ways," Goldstein said. The campaign features real stories from N.C. children about tobacco experiences, illnesses and diseases of their loved ones.
"Policymakers should note that advocating for tobacco use prevention in North Carolina is an issue that parents across the state support, especially increased protection for children from secondhand smoke exposure," he said. "One recent study of 7th and 8th graders in N.C. public schools found that 15 percent of asthma cases reported were caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Currently, only 53 percent of our public schools are 100 percent tobacco-free, and 12 percent of high school students report smoking on school grounds so there are still many ways the state can strengthen its policies for eliminating tobacco use and secondhand smoke from schools."
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