Missouri ranked second-worst state for youth tobacco prevention

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COLUMBIA - Missouri is among the worst states nationwide at preventing its young people from smoking and using tobacco, according to a new study released on Wednesday.

The report by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids shows nearly 30,000 high school students in Missouri smoke or use tobacco. Smoking costs Missouri nearly $3 billion in yearly health care costs, the study says.

This is the second year in a row Missouri is ranked 49th in the country for tobacco prevention. The only state ranked worse is Connecticut, which spends no state dollars on tobacco prevention. The report's top-three states are California, Alaska, and North Dakota.

MU Social Work and Public Health Assistant Professor Mansoo Yu examines adolescent tobacco use and provides specific recommendations for prevention in young people. 

"Early control is better because they can manage their health and costs," Yu said. "If you are trying to help an adult later in life, it's usually more costly. So, if you start with prevention first, it is cost-effective."

Yu said his research shows there are more than 3,000 teens trying cigarettes for the first time, daily.

"More than 25 percent of them will be lifelong cigarette-users," he said.

Yu said prevention has often focused on scare tactics, shuch as showing children lungs and organs that have endured years of smoking and tobacco use.

He said a better approach is finding out what a child relates to and explaining how tobacco use would affect their ability to do that.

"It is more important to have them think of more practical experiences, in terms of the harmfulness of it," Yu said.

He said he believes in legislation that considers the social settings of tobacco use, such as having no-smoking zones in public and implementing 21 and over laws for tobacco purchases.