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Use of snuff and chewing tobacco is on the rise among teenagers and is likely to precipitate an "epidemic of oral cancer'' in the next few decades, the U.S. Surgeon General states in a report released last month.

The report, "Spit Tobacco and Youth,'' shows that 20 percent of high school boys interviewed had used chewing tobacco in the preceding 30 days. Also, twice as many boys ages 16 to 19 use snuff as do men age 50 and over, the study says.

Use of the tobacco products is increasing despite the fact that every state except Montana prohibits the sale of tobacco to minors, Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello notes in the report.

Smokeless tobacco and cigarettes were found to be the cause of 75 percent of the 30,000 new cases of oral cancer last year, the report says.

"This is not a safe alternative to cigarettes,'' Dr. Novello said in a statement. "I am deeply concerned by the attempt of the spit-tobacco industry to downplay the health hazards posed by this type of tobacco.''

The nonprofit Center for Media and Values has launched a program designed to educate teachers, students, and parents about how tobacco and alcohol advertising specifically targets young people.

Developed by media researchers and substance-abuse counselors, "Fatal Attraction: The Selling of Addiction'' includes workshops, videotapes, and lectures on First Amendment issues and the advertising and marketing techniques used to attract members of ethnic and minority groups.

"We simply cannot make progress in reducing our society's drug problem until young people understand how the addiction merchants are using the media to manipulate them,'' said Elizabeth Thorman, the executive director of the Los Angeles-based center.

Additional information is available by calling Carolyn Lenert at (310) 202-1936.

The number of youths orphaned by the AIDS epidemic will exceed 80,000 by 2000, according to a report published in the Dec. 23 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nearly 80 percent of the orphans will be poor and African-American or Hispanic, according to the report, and most will be concentrated in urban centers where AIDS and infection with the virus that causes the disease are most prevalent.

Public prejudices concerning AIDS often impair the ability of communities to provide social services for these children, the authors argue.

But to ignore these children's needs "would be not only lacking in compassion for the most vulnerable members of our society, it would also invite a social catastrophe of the greatest magnitude,'' the report says. --J.P.

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