County still faces ‘uphill’ battles fighting teenage smoking


ORANGE PARK – Attempts to eradicate smoking among teenagers have been fruitless, and QuitDoc Foundation Community Health Advocate Candace Osteen acknowledged the uphill battle March 20 at the Orange Park Town Hall.

The Tobacco Free Partnership of Clay County has board members from Clay County’s Department of Health, nonprofits, residents, hospitals and a probation officer on its board. The group targeted its main initiatives, including raising the age to buy tobacco products to 21, educating retailers about underage smoking and bills in the Legislature that aim to redefine and curb smoking in public places.

It’s an established fact that prolonged smoking tobacco is detrimental to health. Spreading that message to children is another battle. In presentations, Osteen said she tells students their brain is like a house and nicotine is like a brood of termites.

The biggest new issue is electronic cigarettes and vaping. Osteen said agencies are playing catch up and have had to focus more on intervention rather than prevention. She was concerned about students having nicotine addiction and the impacts on brain development and decision making.

“E-cigs” are often shared between users and flavored, but were originally designed for users to curb smoking,” Osteen said. She was concerned about the level of nicotine that can be manipulated far beyond a normal cigarette, are often used in conjunction with conventional cigarettes and it can also function with marijuana.

Tina Baker of Communities in Schools relayed the problems with electronic cigarettes she had seen in schools. Orange Park Medical Center Outreach Liaison Andrea Hepburn asked where to find major electronic cigarette research.

One initiative Osteen discussed was point of sale. She showed board members FDA materials such as flyers, countertop displays and signage to distribute to retailers.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to build relationships with retailers to not sell to underage customers,” Osteen said. “We’re not trying to be a bearer of bad news, but more for support and to bridge that gap.”

Addressing the future of underage of teenage smoking in Clay County, the Tobacco 21 initiative is self-explanatory. Attempts to increase the age to buy tobacco products to 21 are numerous, but one county has made strides, with Alachua County prohibiting the sale to those under 21 in October – the first county in the state. Vendors must have a license and can’t sell tobacco products 1,000 feet from a school.

“I think it’s a great talking point. You have to have a ton of buy-in,” Osteen said. “This ultimately would be a wonderful goal for years to come.”

The Legislature has its hands full, too. Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach) introduced Senate Bill 1046 labeling e-cigs and vaping devices and anything that covers nicotine as tobacco products.

There is a companion bill for Amendment 9 passed by voters in November, which simultaneously banned vaping indoors and offshore drilling, which passed in two Senate committees. Another bill mentioned was Senate Bill 218, proposed by Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) to ban smoking on public beaches.

“These would help us tremendously,” Osteen said.

For more information about the organization’s goals or how to get involved, visit


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