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The recent effort in Washington by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate nicotine is a worthy attempt to dislodge the grip of the tobacco industry on our nation's young people. The pediatricians of Utah are very concerned with the health of our nation's youth and hope that some of this publicity will focus attention on the fact that tobacco use is a pediatric disease.

The vast majority of people who use tobacco begin as teenagers, and even though many try it just for kicks, it rapidly becomes a habit that can't be kicked. In fact, most teens who smoke state they don't plan to be smokers five years later, but some 90 percent still are.The tragedy is that all this is a ploy by the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies advertise their products so that cigarette and smokeless tobacco users appear sexy, independent, "cool" and macho so that they can entice young people to begin to use them. They need to, because over 1,000 tobacco users die every day and need to be replaced by new, young smokers and chewers. These companies have known for years that nicotine in their products keeps users hooked.

There is a mountain of scientific and clinical research that proves beyond a doubt that nicotine is addictive and that other ingredients in smoked and smokeless tobacco cause severe health problems, including heart disease, lung disease, respiratory and ear infections and cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 48,000 of this nation's pediatricians dedicated to the health of our youth, has joined numerous other health and medical agencies in calling for measures to control tobacco use by children and teens.

Among other things, the academy has called upon pediatricians to educate and counsel their young patients about the dangers of tobacco use. We also support legislation that would promote a smoke-free environment in all public places, ban the advertisement of tobacco products, eliminate cigarette vending machines, increase tobacco taxes and eliminate federal subsidies to growers.

Parents, grandparents, teachers - anyone whose life is touched by a child --should join pediatricians in urging President Clinton and Congress to support the FDA's plan to regulate tobacco because of the addictive properties of nicotine. It is time for an all-out assault on the industry that so dishonestly portrays itself and its products as clean, wholesome and "all-American."

Tom Metcalf

President, Intermountain Pediatric Society

Salt Lake City