FORT WALTON BEACH — The Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County and the Florida Department of Health's Tobacco Free Florida program are raising awareness about the dangers of smokeless tobacco—like chew and dip—during Through With Chew Week.

This national public awareness campaign was created to reduce the use of smokeless tobacco among young people, and Tobacco Free Florida aims to help combat this deadly addiction through With Chew Week, Feb. 19-25, and the Great American Spit Out—a day when smokeless tobacco users join together to quit—on Feb. 23.

Although the youth cigarette smoking rate in Florida decreased over 50 percent between 2012 and 2016, the number of Florida high school students who reported current use of smokeless tobacco products decreased only 24.5 percent in those same four years.[i] The disproportionately higher rate of smokeless tobacco use in rural areas is also alarming—current youth smokeless tobacco use is more than three times higher in rural communities than in non-rural areas.[ii] 3.8 percent of youth ages 11-17 in Okaloosa County reported current use of smokeless tobacco products in 2016, according to the Florida Youth Tobacco Survey.[iii]

"Since 2012, there has been little improvement in smokeless tobacco rates for youth in Okaloosa County," Dr. Karen A. Chapman, DOH-Okaloosa director, said. "Overall, tobacco use is still a massive problem for our county, and DOH-Okaloosa continues to work with community partners to address the issue."

To raise awareness about the dangers of smokeless tobacco use, DOH-Okaloosa is partnering with the Students Working Against Tobacco clubs at Bruner Middle School, Meigs Middle School, Crestview High School and Fort Walton Beach High School—as well as the Northwest Florida State College Athletics Department. Activities will take place throughout the week to help students, faculty, and the public understand the risks of using smokeless tobacco.

Currently, there is no scientific or medical evidence that proves smokeless tobacco use is an effective method to help people quit smoking. Floridians who want to quit any form of tobacco have access to the state's free and proven-effective resources.

The Tobacco Free Florida campaign is a statewide cessation and prevention campaign funded by Florida's tobacco settlement fund. Since the program began in 2007, more than 159,000 Floridians have successfully quit using one of Tobacco Free Florida's free tools and services. Visit www.tobaccofreeflorida.com to learn more about its Quit Your Way services.

Visit www.FloridaHealth.gov for more information about the Florida Department of Health. 

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[i] Florida Youth Tobacco Survey (FYTS), Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Epidemiology, 2016.

[ii] Middle School, High School, and Youth indicators. Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, 2016.

[iii] Florida Youth Tobacco Survey (FYTS), Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Epidemiology, 2016.