- - Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Local high school students educated merchants on tobacco sale restrictions Wednesday as part of an annual anti-tobacco campaign called “Kick Butts Day.”

Students at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria handed out pamphlets at nearby businesses and spoke with employees about the consequences of selling tobacco to underage customers.

Hundreds of young people participated in similar Kick Butts Day activities across the District, Maryland and Virginia in an effort to discourage tobacco use among their peers.

Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg and police Capt. Gregg Ladislaw met with T.C. Williams students at the event, which was sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria.

“I don’t know one person who smokes who doesn’t regret it,” Ms. Silberberg said. “What you’re doing is so important.”

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids advocacy group is sponsoring more than 1,000 classroom activities, rallies and other youth activism events in the U.S. and internationally to discourage tobacco use among high school students.

The events are part of the group’s effort to prevent a new generation from becoming addicted to nicotine, especially with the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes, which are marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes come in nearly every flavor imaginable, from “gummy bear” to “unicorn puke.” The liquid used in e-cigarettes is available in more than 7,700 flavors, making them increasingly popular among teenagers, according to a report issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Tobacco use kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC studies show smoking is responsible for 800 deaths each year in the District and more than 480,000 deaths nationwide.

Last year the District joined other major cities including New York, Boston and Chicago in increasing the minimum age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21.

The D.C. Council also passed legislation banning the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces and inside public establishments, equating them with traditional cigarettes under the District’s smoke-free air law.

Some council members raised objections to the measure, calling it an ineffective way to lower the number of teenagers in the District who use tobacco, which is 12.5 percent — 2.5 percent higher than the 2015 national average.

Efforts to prevent tobacco use are up against flourishing tobacco companies, which spend $9.1 billion annually to promote their products, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The District spent $1.4 million — 12.7 percent of the CDC’s recommended $10.7 million — on tobacco prevention in 2016, but saw $30 million in tax revenue on tobacco products.

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