Red Ribbon reminder: Youth fight more than just COVID

The Sun-Gazette

The Tulare County Office of Education is posting 3-part video series on Facebook and YouTube in recognition of Red Ribbon Week

TULARE COUNTY – Despite an ongoing pandemic, the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) still finds it imperative to remind community members on the importance of young people living their lives drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free. In partnership with the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, TCOE is proud to announce its 11th annual Tulare County Red Ribbon Celebration.

Typically held at the Visalia Convention Center, the Red Ribbon Celebration is a fun and interactive prevention education event attended by hundreds of students. This year, due to public gathering restrictions, the event has been reimagined as a three-part video series posting on TCOE’s Facebook page and YouTube channel Oct. 26, 28 and 30. This series explores the history of the event and the role of the death of DEA agent Kiki Camarena had in forming it. The three five-minute videos also include informational interviews on the importance of a substance free lifestyle as well as the consequences of youth choosing to use drugs and alcohol.

“We encourage teachers to incorporate the videos as part of their lessons,” Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Tim Hire said.

Educators and parents are invited to follow the Tulare County Office of Education’s Facebook page ( or visit TCOE’s YouTube channel ( to see the entire series. The Tulare County Red Ribbon Celebration is a partnership between CHOICES Prevention Program (, Tulare County Health & Human Services Agency (, Visalia Unified School District PULSE Afterschool Program (, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (, Family Services of Tulare County (, and Family HealthCare Network (

Focus on nicotine

In 2020, Red Ribbon Week, the nation’s largest and longest running drug-use prevention campaign, turns 35. Red Ribbon Week has informed millions of kids and parents about the danger of drugs and alcohol, influencing positive choices and behaviors. However, one highly addictive drug that may not receive as much attention is nicotine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which measures a variety of risky behaviors, including tobacco use. The survey found that in California, more than 42% of high school students reported having tried e-cigarettes and more than 18% reported using currently. More than 7% reported currently using smokeless tobacco.

Exeter Unified School District was part of the California Healthy Kids Survey that also measures risk-related behaviors. The 2018-19 survey found that 14% of ninth graders reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, but only 3% report using traditional cigarettes.

The 2019 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey also found that California high school students overall are using smokeless tobacco more than students nationally.

The common thread among these products is flavored nicotine which the tobacco industry uses to spark curiosity and mask the harsh taste of tobacco. Although the sweet fruity flavors may seem harmless, the high dose of nicotine teens get when they use, isn’t.

Rural communities have long been targeted by the tobacco industry. For decades, the tobacco industry has taken advantage of often weaker tobacco retail laws in rural areas and push misleading advertising, marketing and promotions that tie tobacco use to values such as strength, independence and resilience, while using images of cowboys, hunters and racecars to make smoking seem like it’s a part of life. In recent years, they have added new products like e-cigarettes, but the intent is the same.

According to Shelly Brantley, the project director of Rural Initiatives Strengthening Equity (RISE) which is a program dedicated to combatting tobacco’s harms in California’s rural communities, the perception of nicotine may be part of the problem.

“Make no mistake, nicotine is the tobacco industry’s tool to hook our kids to deadly products—that hasn’t changed. What’s changed is how they’re packaging this drug. The tobacco industry continues to target our communities and portray tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, as being less harmful, but that’s far from the truth, especially for youth,” Brantley said.

She went on to explain how those products often contain high amounts of nicotine, which is a harmful drug that is basically brain poison for youth. She believes that the tobacco industry now has it wrapped up in sweet, fruity flavors in a variety of forms to entice kids to try them, which leads to addiction.

“Nicotine exposure can actually change the chemistry in teens’ brains and can impact learning, memory and attention,” Brantley said. “The tobacco industry views our kids as their next generation of customers, and nicotine is their tool to hook them. We need to talk with our kids about what nicotine really is—it’s a harmful, addictive drug.”

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