NORTH PLATTE – 2016 was a big year for tobacco awareness and prevention, throughout the country and locally.
About 60 youth took a prominent role in tobacco awareness in a rally on Philip, between the one ways, on June 3. Media stories showed the youth holding signs and shouting rhymes and chants, drawing attention to ways tobacco companies try to get kids to use their deadly products. People driving by, honked and waved approval. The youth were part of a Community Connections leadership camp, help for the first time in 2016.
The next month Nebraska State Patrol did their random checks in our area, to see how well businesses were complying with the law prohibiting sales of tobacco to minors. Only one store, out of 18, sold to the cooperating, undercover youth, for a compliance rate of 94%.
The minimum age for tobacco sales in Nebraska, is 18. However that could change, if the nationwide momentum from 2016 continues. In May, California raised their tobacco sales age to 21. LB 73, introduced in the Nebraska legislature this session, would do the same here. Hawaii was the first state to pass a Tobacco 21 law, in 2015.
In 2016, a lot of attention was also given to reducing secondhand smoke exposure in places like parks, campuses and public housing.
Some residents would like to see more smoke-free areas in North Platte City parks. Community Connections-Tobacco Free Lincoln County Coalition* met with the city council in a work session in May, to share ideas and talk about options. No decisions were made at that time. As the year ended, the coalition was conducting surveys to estimate the level of community support for making places like the children’s playgrounds and tennis courts smoke-free. They plan to present their findings to the city council this spring. Currently, smoking is prohibited at the splash pad, swimming pool, carnival rides, dog parks and ball fields.
Meanwhile, students attending the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and UN-Kearney, are benefitting from tobacco-free campus policies that took effect at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. The universities join Mid-Plains Community College and six other colleges and universities across the state, that were already smoke-free.
Residents in public housing will breathe easier, because of rules announced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in November. They require all the units to be made smoke-free by mid-2018. Autumn Park in North Platte is already smoke-free, but the scattered duplexes and single family homes are not.
Local e-cigarette shopkeepers are paying attention to regulations announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016. The rules affect manufacture, labeling and sales of the products.
Baseball fans are seeing fewer major league players with cans in their back pockets and tobacco wads in their mouths. In November, an MLB collective bargaining agreement prohibited new players from using smokeless tobacco.
Travelers need to know about new laws prohibiting smoking in cars with children inside. In 2016, Virginia became the eighth state to protect children in this way. They follow Arkansas, Louisiana, Vermont, Maine, Utah, Oregon and California.
*TFLC is a local coalition working to reduce involuntary secondhand smoke exposure and youth tobacco initiation. It is funded by Nebraska Health & Human Services, Tobacco Free Nebraska Program, as a result of the 1998 Tobacco Settlement Agreement.