Facebook Twitter

Op-ed: Our commitment to a tobacco-free Utah

SHARE Op-ed: Our commitment to a tobacco-free Utah
A view of the Huntsman Cancer Institute. In commemoration of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, HCI joins the World Health Organization and other global partners to affirm our commitment to a tobacco-free world, and specifically, to a tobacco-free Utah.

A view of the Huntsman Cancer Institute. In commemoration of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, HCI joins the World Health Organization and other global partners to affirm our commitment to a tobacco-free world, and specifically, to a tobacco-free Utah.

Huntsman Cancer Institute

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah was founded with the singular focus to eradicate cancer from the face of the earth. Our dedicated teams of scientists and researchers work tirelessly to fulfill that vision, while transforming the landscape of cancer research, education and patient care in Utah and the Mountain West.

Over the past two decades, the death rate from cancer has declined steadily, yet cancer remains the second-leading cause of death in Utah and the U.S. Though not all cancers are preventable, it is estimated that as many as a third of all cancer deaths are a result of tobacco use.

The dangers and risks associated with tobacco use are well-known and well-documented, and in 2018, tobacco remains one of the greatest public health threats to our communities.

In commemoration of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, HCI joins the World Health Organization and other global partners to affirm our commitment to a tobacco-free world, and specifically, to a tobacco-free Utah.

As the official cancer center of the state, we are uniquely positioned to help end tobacco-related disparities through targeted outreach to Utah communities, expanded promotion of cessation services and advocacy supporting comprehensive tobacco control policies.

At HCI, our community outreach team travels to every county in the state, fostering partnerships with local, nonprofit, faith-based and community organizations to educate tens of thousands of Utahns annually. This work promotes individual behavior change and connects tobacco users to vital resources like way to quit and the Utah State Quit Line, a free and bilingual 24/7 telephone coaching service.

A 2017 report from the Utah Department of Health estimated that 70 percent of Utahns who smoke cigarettes are planning to quit within the next year. We must do everything we can to build on this existing work and expand tobacco cessation services — both in the community and in our health care systems — to those that need them most, including cancer patients, racial and ethnic minorities, low-income and LGBTQ communities.

Earlier this month, HCI opened the Center for Health Outcomes and Population Equity to help reduce cancer health disparities in Utah through research and clinical interventions. As our population grows, more resources must be dedicated to better understand why some Utahns continue to use tobacco.

Evidence-based policy strategies continue to play a critical role in tobacco control, as they help make tobacco less affordable and often change the way tobacco is sold and used, protecting our children from initiation. Over the last three decades, teen tobacco use in Utah has declined due to legislation and education efforts that limit tobacco access. However, since 2013, use of electronic cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems among our youths has nearly doubled and is projected to rise.

HCI supports raising the legal age for sale of all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 19 to 21. This is an opportunity to work with local policymakers to usher in a new, healthier norm that will have a profound impact on public health for future generations. Data show that approximately 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before age 21. New legislation would significantly reduce youth tobacco use, and over time, save thousands of lives. Five states across the country have already enacted statewide laws raising the tobacco age.

HCI also supports continued advocacy for tobacco-free policies in our workplaces, businesses and universities. Recently, HCI co-led efforts to designate the University of Utah a tobacco-free campus, fulfilling a years-long commitment to create a healthier environment for students, faculty, staff and patients. This new policy provides a supportive environment for those who want to quit, supports clean air initiatives and reduces costs associated with fire and medical insurance rates, maintenance, absenteeism and health care. It is now time for Utah’s public colleges and universities to adopt similar policies.

As Utahns, we should all be proud of the progress we have made toward a tobacco-free world. Yet, there is still much work to accomplish as we implement these comprehensive recommendations that will positively impact health for generations.

Huntsman Cancer Institute is more committed than ever.

Will you join us?