Local teen group takes tobacco fight to FDA

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) A local teen group from Chesterfield took the fight against tobacco to the Food and Drug Administration. Now the FDA will use that research and testimony in its decision on whether or not to ban new flavored smokeless tobacco products.

Research statistics find that every day one thousand kids in the United States become regular smokers. A third of smokers will die prematurely from tobacco related disease.

Those statistics fuel Judy Hou’s mission to curb youth tobacco use, which is how the Chesterfield teen ended up testifying a few weeks ago in Washington D.C., on behalf of the teen action group Y Street.

In their Meltdown campaign, Hou and other Y Street members surveyed thousands of Virginia kids about new flavored smokeless tobacco products that they believe resemble candy and mints.

“The reason it’s so dangerous is based on packaging alone; 43 percent of teens said they thought the flavored smokeless tobacco product contained candy mints or gum,” said Hou. “They just don’t think it’s as dangerous as a traditional cigarette.”

Hou said that the absence of smoke, and the size—just barely that of a Tic-Tac—makes kids associate it with being less dangerous than a traditional cigarette, even though they contain as much nicotine.

“It’s just as harmful” said Hou.

Hou also believes kids are deceived by the flavors offered in these smokeless tobacco products; wintergreen, java.

“They sound harmless. It’s nothing you would associate with it being a tobacco product” said Hou.

The Maggie Walker senior and organizers with the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth are thrilled that the FDA will use Y Street’s findings as it considers whether to ban these products.

Danny Saggese said Hou and the other Y Street members distributed more than 14,000 surveys to the FDA.  He says it’s a significant sample for the agency to use as they make a decision on how to manage these products going forward.

When Hou’s work through Y Street helped earn the group a national youth award this past summer, she rubbed elbows with the likes of the U.S. Surgeon General, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and Virginia’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli.

For her, the best part is knowing that her work can save lives.  “As a teen it really feels satisfying to know I can make a difference in the community,” said Hou.

Y Street leaders say they are very proud of the work done by Judy and her fellow students. They expect to hear the FDA’s recommendation on the flavored smokeless tobacco products in March.

CBS 6 will keep you posted on the very latest.

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