Freshman Spencer Flanders and his team of four high school students spent their Tuesday evening decorating the lawn outside of Bristlecone building at Carson City’s Western Nevada College.
They punctured 1,300 red pinwheels into the ground, honoring those who die daily from a national epidemic of tobacco related illnesses, for the National Kick Butts Day event being held Wednesday.
“There’s another personal reason what inspired me to get involved,” he said. “I have dyslexia and those with dyslexia are more prone to tobacco use. My goal in the future is to work with the American Heart Association.”
With his own grant money earned from his award as the 2015 National Advocate of the Year, from the Tobacco-Free Kids campaign, Flanders purchased the pinwheels.
He also created the Statewide Youth Coalition, Nevada’s first youth group advocating for public policies to reduce tobacco use.
Because of Flanders, it’s also the first time WNC campuses in Carson City, Douglas, and Fallon will be hosting the event, as all campuses are becoming smoke-free in August.
More than 1,000 events are planned across the world for this annual day of youth activism, sponsored by the campaign. The Fallon campus also is decorated with pinwheels and the Douglas campus is hosting education events today from 2:30-7 p.m.
“About 17 percent of students on the Carson City campus smokes,” said Healthy Campus Program Coordinator and WNC professor Rebecca Bevans. “We’re not telling people to quit but they can’t do it here.”
As for Nevada being one of the states ranking lowest in the country for smoking prevention, tobacco use in the state claims 4,100 lives and costs $1.08 billion in annual health care bills, with 7.5 percent of high school students smoking according to a report by toboccofreekids.org.
Truckee Meadows Community College campuses are going tobacco-free in December, and the University of Nevada, Reno went tobacco-free two years ago.
The decision for WNC campuses for tobacco-free was approved in the beginning of 2016.
“We’ve had a few complaints,” Bevans said. “Smoking kills more than cancer and any other disease. Spending money on a pack a day is already spending half of what you would for a semester. On top of the state’s high smoking rate and huge medicare, cigarettes also cost the state money to clean up the mess. We just want to promote a healthier lifestyle among our campuses.”
This year’s focus is on how tobacco companies are captivating children with flavored products, such as electronic cigarettes and cigars. Because of the candy-like descriptions, kids are more prone to make purchases.
“We have a vulnerable age group between the ages of 18 and 24 that already use vapors,” Bevans said.
According to the campaign, e-cigarette use among high school students jumped from 1.5 percent to 16 percent nationwide within in a five year period, from 2011 to 2015.
Tobacco companies, such as ones in Nevada, also continue to spend big bucks in marketing to attract youth. The campaign found tobacco companies spend $9.1 billion a year on marketing nationwide, and $79.1 million in Nevada.
One of the biggest challenges are convincing campuses in southern Nevada to promote the movement, Bevans said. “They have not attempted to promote it but they are watching us,” she said. “They’re learning from us. If we could convince them to join us, it would be a huge help to the state.”
And as concerns also are rising with legal marijuana usage, Bevans said that factor should not be confused with smoking tobacco in public.
“Pot is regulated like alcohol,” she said. “It should not be an issue as it’s treated as a controlled substance. It’s also not acceptable on campus, either.”
At least 100 people including students attended the Kick Butts Day event at the Carson City campus. The Healthy Campus Committee and Carson City Health and Human Services are hosting a scavenger hunt and raffle at 11 a.m. on the Carson City campus. The winner of the hunt receives one free three-credit class.