Fired up over tobacco: Anti-smoking group helping to kick butts

A group of around 25 people, including students from middle schools and high schools in Kent and New Castle County, cancer patients and survivors visited Legislative Hall on Wednesday to ask legislators to focus more on fighting cancer, including raising the minimum age for sale of all tobacco products to 21. Delaware State News/Mike Finney

DOVER — Many people who have been touched by cancer, either to themselves or through a loved one, traveled to Legislative Hall on Wednesday and made a plea urging state legislators to put fighting cancer at the top of their priority lists.

Specifically, the group, jointly backed by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and American Lung Association of Delaware, is taking aim at the use of tobacco products within the state.

Their goal is to increase funding to Delaware’s Tobacco Control Program by dedicating at least 1 percent of the state’s tobacco tax revenue to that program and to also raise the minimum age for sale of all tobacco products to 21 years old.

Delawareans currently have to be at least 18 to purchase tobacco products — and the same age to vote.

Deborah Brown, chief mission officer for the American Lung Association, admitted the issues likely won’t be addressed until the next legislative session, but just wanted to get the issues in front of the state’s lawmakers during the group’s Day at the Capitol.

“We probably have about 25 to 30 individuals from our cancer survivors, many of the individuals are members of our ‘Kick Butts’ generation and are a college-aged and young adult group called DANTE (Delawareans Against Nicotine and Tobacco Exposure),” Ms. Brown said. “They’re all here (Wednesday) to have discussion with legislators.

“We’re really trying to make sure we do a lot of education and let them know the importance of this particular issue and that’s why we have a lot of young people here.”

Ms. Brown said lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of men and women in the United States.

She said it is expected that more than 890 people in Delaware diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018 and 580 will succumb to the deadly disease over the course of the year.

On Wednesday, the anti-smoking group toured the State Capitol, met with around a dozen legislators and spoke with Gov. John Carney in the afternoon.

Jacob Valentine, a seventh grader at Learning Express Academy in Newark, attended the event with his father, Jerry Valentine, who is an ACS CAN volunteer.

Jacob Valentine spoke to legislators about the pain his dad still faces every day from losing his father at an early age and asked them to make cancer a higher priority.

Jerry Valentine was impressed by his son’s vigilance.

“As a son who lost his dad decades too soon, I will let my lawmakers know that if we are to eliminate cancer as a major health problem in Delaware, this goal must be top of mind for our legislature,” Mr. Valentine said. “By making Tobacco 21 legislation and tobacco control program funding a priority, we could ensure progress continues to reduce suffering and death from this disease.”

ACS CAN reports that more than 6,100 people in Delaware are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year and more than 2,000 will die from the disease.

Snuffing ’em out young

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and American Lung Association of Delaware believe that raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 will help counter the tobacco industry’s efforts to target young people at a critical time when they say many go from experimenting with tobacco to becoming regular smokers.

Kasey Verducci, a junior at the University of Delaware, said she is all for that, especially if it comes with strong retailer compliance and active enforcement as part of its strategy to reduce youth smoking.

“I see my peers all the time around campus either using tobacco products and I see other people waving their hands around their faces trying to get the smoke away from them,” Ms. Verducci said. “They can’t stand the smell, it causes them to cough and it’s a very bad habit for everybody to be around.”

A report by the National Academy of Medicine predicts that smoking initiation will be reduced by 25 percent for 15- to 17-year-olds and 15 percent for 18- to 20-year-olds if the tobacco sales age is increased to 21.

“Tobacco 21 is a common-sense measure,” said Jeanne Chiquoine, Delaware’s government relations director for ACS CAN. “Smoking causes 30 percent of all cancer deaths.

“Approximately 95 percent of adults who smoke started smoking before the age of 21. Increasing the age for the sale of tobacco products is a promising strategy in the effort to keep kids from beginning this deadly addiction and may decrease their risk of many cancers and other chronic diseases. We are sending that message to our state leaders”

Raven Walker-Johnson, a junior at Concord High School, was among the students who want to see people ‘Kick Butts.’

“We just want to basically educate adults and kids as to why tobacco is bad for you and what it can do to your lungs and how it can harm your body,” she said. “A lot of people that I know start smoking from sixth grade on up, so we try to advocate for them to stop smoking as early as possible.”
Money for the fight

Besides just trying to raise the age limit to purchase tobacco products, the group is also hoping to secure at least 1 percent of the state’s tobacco tax revenue for Delaware’s Tobacco Control Program.

Ms. Brown said The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that Delaware spend just more than $13 million annually on tobacco control and prevention.

That is the other part of the two-pronged effort to help decrease tobacco use by minors, who are at greatest risk of becoming addicted to tobacco products.

They are also the main reasons why the group decided to visit the legislators on Wednesday.

“We are meeting with our elected leaders this week as representatives of each one of the more than 6,100 (people) who are estimated to be diagnosed with cancer this year in Delaware,” said Wilmington’s Barbara Burd, a ACS CAN volunteer.

“Delaware’s legislature must commit to support legislation that increases the age of tobacco product sale in Delaware to 21 and increases funding for tobacco control programs so we can work to eliminate cancer’s impact.”

In remembrance of so many who have lost their lives to cancer, this group is taking a big step towards kicking butts.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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