September 27, 1996

Where there’s smoke, there’s ire for group of VU medical students

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VMS II Jeremy Freeman took part in the recent demonstration of support for legislation aimed at curbing tobacco use by children

Where there's smoke, there's ire for group of VU medical students

Medical students at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine rallied last week in support of efforts to reduce their future patient load.

About 100 students gathered for a "Demonstration of Support" for a Food and Drug Administration rule aimed at fighting the "pediatric epidemic" of tobacco use.

The FDA rule is intended to reduce easy access to tobacco and to curb the appeal of tobacco to children. The comprehensive initiative's aim is to reduce teenage tobacco consumption by 50 percent. It was approved on Aug. 23 by President Bill Clinton.

The group of students assembled in Light Hall to sign letters to the president, U.S. Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist, and other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation supporting the FDA measure.

"As the generation of physicians who will be at the bedside of the thousand children who started smoking today, when they die from tobacco use, we urge you to oppose all efforts to weaken the FDA proposal," the letter read.

"We are concerned about the health of our nation's children," said Jeremy Freeman, a second-year medical student and member of the Medical Student Legislative Action Coalition (MSLAC). "The time has come for us to take a stand for the children. Tobacco is the only legal substance that routinely causes harm when used as intended," he said.

Freeman said the intent of the regulations are not to take rights away from adults, but to protect rights of children.

"Hopefully, this event will serve as a kickoff for a statewide signature campaign of medical students concerned about this issue," he said.

The major provisions of the FDA rule are:

€ requiring age verification for all over-the-counter sales

€ limiting vending machine sales and self-service displays only to places where minors are not allowed, such as bars and nightclubs.

€ Prohibiting the sale of single cigarettes and packages of less than 20.

€ Prohibiting free sampling of cigarettes.

The rule would also: ban outdoor advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds; permit black and white text only advertising in publications with significant youth readership; prohibit the sale or giveaway of tobacco products like caps or jackets that carry product brand names or logos; and prohibit the brand name sponsorship of sporting or entertainment events.

Simon Chen, a first-year medical student speaking at the event, said that Tennessee ranks third in the nation in smoking-related deaths. Smoking causes over 10,000 deaths in Tennessee each year, he said.

"Our future patients are losing the battle against tobacco use," Chen said. "A 1995 study by the Centers for Disease Control showed that smoking among youth is at a 16-year high. It jumped from 27 percent in 1991 to 35 percent in 1995. Tennessee is not exempt from this epidemic. We must do something about it."

Ashley Wilkerson, a first-year medical student told the group of students that the cigarette manufacturers who spend the most money advertising specific brands – such as Marlboro, Newport and Camel – are also the companies that sell the most to youth.

"Joe Camel is as familiar to a six-year-old child as Mickey Mouse," she said.

"As future physicians, we can't allow this trend to continue. Our first step is getting rid of the bait by limiting cigarette advertising."

Vanderbilt medical students have also been involved in school outreach projects to discourage smoking by young people.