The American Cancer Society says teen smoking is becoming more common in North Carolina since the legislature eliminated funding for anti-smoking education programs.
The group’s Cancer Action Network held a rally with teenagers Wednesday calling on legislators to restore $17.3 million for the Youth Tobacco Prevention Program.
“We were well on our way to a smoke-free generation, and that would save an awful lot of money in healthcare costs,” said Bob Schechner, the Cancer Society’s lead ambassador for North Carolina. “They can do that by restoring tobacco education funding. These children are worth more than zero dollars.”
A bill filed last year by Rep. Gary Pendleton, a Raleigh Republican, would have restored funding to the program but did not get a hearing. “The legislature has been failing to do the job on smoking cessation,” he said.
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The Cancer Society said that e-cigarette use by high school students in North Carolina has increased 888 percent since 2012, when the education program was eliminated. Sen. Stan Bingham, a Davidson County Republican, said that’s led to misconceptions about the health hazards of e-cigarettes.
“So many people think that e-cigarettes are water vapor,” Bingham said, noting that the vapor contains nicotine and other harmful ingredients. “They’ve got bubble gum flavor to attract children to smoke these. ... It’s very disappointing to me that funding has been taken away.”
Wednesday’s rally also called on legislators to support a proposal that would put fresh produce in convenience stores. And the group voiced support for the N.C. Cancer Treatment Fairness Act, which would require insurance companies to provide better coverage for multiple types of chemotherapy.