November 27, 2001 11:00 pm

Union County grocery stores and other outlets that sell tobacco should be congratulated for the way they are keeping cigarettes out of the hands of young teens.

But those who think that the battle is won to keep tobacco away from young people are sadly mistaken. Many of them are finding other ways to acquire tobacco.

Spot-checks using 14- to 16-year-olds were conducted this past year involving every tobacco retailer in Oregon. Union County was only one of seven counties where fewer than 10 percent of the clerks agreed to sell tobacco products to young people. Other counties with low sales were Benton, Gilliam, Linn Marion, Polk and Yamhill.

By comparison, the average rate of sales to children under 18 throughout Oregon in 2001 was 16.9 percent.

Although Union Countys numbers are encouraging, communities must adopt a comprehensive program to discourage young people from using tobacco. Health education is an important component. Teens must come to understand the health risks of tobacco use not only to themselves but to others around them through second-hand smoke. They can come to see the direct correlation between tobacco use and acquiring the seriously disabling or deadly ailments of lung cancer and heart disease later in life. Young people must come to conclude that smoking is not as cool as it appears to be.

Retail clerks may be saying no to teen-agers, but are parents giving young people the same message? Are they making it easy for children to start smoking by leaving packs of cigarettes around the house? Are adult smokers telling young people how extremely difficult it is to kick what has become an expensive habit and how they wish they had never started?

Teens, too, could band together, pledging that they will not turn to tobacco and offering help to each other to resist the impulse.

All these efforts to keep young people from using tobacco products are worth it. Most smokers report they started smoking before they turned 18. The tobacco companies will complain, but think of the positive results. People will live longer, insurance premiums will go down and the health of Americans will improve as fewer teens turn to tobacco.


New years resolutions are just around the corner. And some of these will center on the desire to kick the tobacco habit. Some Observer readers have successfully done exactly that.

They can pass on to other readers the techniques or strategies theyve used to successfully walk away from cigarettes or other tobacco products. Share your ideas in a letter to the editor. You can fax or e-mail them to the newspaper, or drop them by The Observer office.