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Dixie County High School SWAT Officers Greet Congressman Cliff Stearns

Dixie County High School SWAT officers Theresa Lehman and Sarah Hurst, along with Dixie County’s Tobacco Prevention Specialist, Melanie Anderson, had the opportunity to speak to Congressman Cliff Stearns at a Meet and Greet Event held at the Dixie County Courthouse on June 15, 2012. 

The DCHS SWAT officers thanked Congressman Stearns for not signing onto a proposed bill, H.R. 1639, that would deregulate the jurisdiction of the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s protection over the sale, manufacturing and distribution of traditional and premium cigars.  The SWAT students expressed their concern with the loopholes that this bill could create, most likely allowing more tobacco products to be marketed towards the youth of Dixie County and the State of Florida. Other products, including large candy-flavored blunts and cigars, might become deregulated as well if this bill were to pass. 

Rep. Cliff Stearns

The SWAT youth described how the tobacco industry has already found loopholes around many of the current regulations that were created to limit marketing techniques aimed at kids.  In most of the convenience stores in Dixie County, kids can see tobacco advertisements at a child’s eye level.  These ads in fact are placed at such a level to normalize tobacco use.  Kids are also exposed to tobacco’s colorful packaging with various flavors, such as grape, apple, strawberry and peach.  These tobacco products are not even labeled to show what harmful ingredients are in them.
Such products target new users because the fruit flavors mask the tobacco taste until the young person becomes addicted as a lifetime tobacco user.  This technique is called “Positive First Experience”.  Melanie Anderson, Dixie County’s Tobacco Prevention Specialist, shared examples of colorfully flavored cigars that were purchased in Dixie County.  Congressman Stearns seemed genuinely surprised by the fact that the low price of a typical cigar is only $1.29.

The SWAT officers asked Congressman Stearns not to co-sponsor the bill, or for any bill that will allow any tobacco company to market its products towards kids.
Along with this request they also asked for him to look at the proposed bill S.3081 that will provide tax rate parity among all tobacco products.  This means that cigars and smokeless tobacco products would be taxed at the same rate as cigarettes.  This bill would also restrict the sale of cigars aimed at youth, similar to a purchase that was made at a convenience store adjacent to the Dixie County High School just prior to the meeting.  That purchase was for two small cigars at the low price of 19 cents with a one cent tax.  So for a total of 20 cents, individuals can purchase two small cigars. This makes very cheap tobacco accessible to youth… cheap until you consider the long term costs to one’s health, and even life.

Congressman Stearns stated that he was aware of the two proposed bills and will look further into them.
Anderson next shared with Congressman Stearns about the support that the SWAT club has received from the Dixie County Commissioners by passing a Candy Flavored Tobacco Product Placement Ordinance.  She also shared information on Resolutions asking retailers to voluntarily stop the sale of flavored tobacco products passed by both Dixie County and the Town of Cross City.  She was also able to give Congressman Stearns the results from the most recent Florida Youth Tobacco Survey (2010) where 37% of the Dixie County High School students reported using tobacco.  This is much higher than the 22% of those who use tobacco state-wide.  This data helped to inform the Congressman just how important it is that DCHS SWAT continues the good work they are doing in awareness, education, and prevention.

Congressman Stearns also described how he began a special congressional caucus to tackle COPD, the COPD Congressional Caucus.  The COPD Congressional Caucus website ( reports that, “The most important cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoking are also risk factors for COPD, and passive ("secondhand") exposure to cigarette smoke also contributes to respiratory symptoms and COPD.” With this strong statement the DCHS SWAT looks forward in working with Congressman Cliff Stearns in the future.