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herald editorial - 12/14/01

December 27, 2001

State must battle teens' attitude of invulnerability



The head of West Virginia's Health and Human Resources Department says the state needs to spend $4 million a year more than it does now on its anti-tobacco campaign. Secretary Paul Nusbaum may be aiming too low, considering that what he's fighting is not just tobacco use, but young peoples' belief that they're invulnerable.

Think about it. How many teens take their first drink, their first drink or their first climb up the side of the town water tower because they cannot imagine anything bad happening to them as a result? Few, if any of their friends have died, so death is a foreign concept, or something that only happens to older people.

What they don't see is the connection between what happens today and the result years from now. One smoke becomes pack a day habit and eventually lung cancer or emphysema. One drink leads to overindulgence and eventually to cirrhosis of the liver.

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Not everyone is so unlucky, of course, and youngsters are quick to cite the story of the old man who lived to be 98 and smoked and drank every day. Chances are that story is true.

The ones we don't hear, the ones which are backed up by statistics - attested to by family members - chronicle the suffering, the hospital stays and the struggle to get enough breath to walk to the curb for that day's mail.

What the state should concentrate on, if it boosts the money spent on public education as Nusbaum recommends, is a campaign that wouldn't focus solely on tobacco, but on choices in general. It might mean exposing teens to people who've taken a chance and failed to beat the odds, or perhaps better, to people who've preserved their time for something better by avoiding bad habits.

Eventually cigarette smoking will reach the status cigar smoking has now, viewed as something that's unhealthy, unclean and uncool. Until cigarettes are viewed in that way, young people need to be reminded that they - and their lungs - are not indestructible.

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