Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Please lend your powerful voice to one of the most overlooked substance abuse problems in America and assist us in launching National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week, March 18 to 24, 2001.

Your readers already know about the dangers of alcohol-impaired driving, underage smoking and drinking, and illicit drug abuse. But I wonder how many mothers and fathers understand that their kids are also at risk from common household products not usually associated with drug abuse.

Nail polish remover, airplane glue, bleach, paint, kerosene and many other products can cause serious health problems when children and adolescents use them to get high.

Sniffing or "huffing" (inhaling through the mouth) can induce effects ranging from temporary headaches to long-term brain damage or even death. Younger children, who may experiment out of curiosity, are the most likely inhalant abusers. They do not understand that ordinary products may be dangerous if used for something other than the intended purpose.

Abby, please ask parents to teach their children that sniffing and huffing are dangerous. Adults must be alert to missing household products and soaked rags, bags or socks. It is important for parents to inform kids that inhalant abuse is harmful, unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Knowing what your children are doing, who they hang with, and making arrangements for them to participate in supervised after-school activities are also important steps grown-ups can take to prevent youth substance abuse.

Readers who want help or additional information should call the Department of Health and Human Services' national clearinghouse at 1-800-788-2800 and and request a parenting skills brochure. Our multilingual Web site is

Thank you, Abby, for your leadership during this year's campaign, and for all you do to help your readers enjoy safe, healthy lives. -- EDWARD JURITH, ACTING DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY, WASHINGTON, D.C.

DEAR MR. JURITH AND PARENTS EVERYWHERE: I am pleased to help and to urge parents to support your campaign to discourage children and teens from heedlessly risking their health. With close to a million new inhalant users a year and 5 percent of eighth-graders reporting inhalant use in the past 30 days, there's cause for concern.

Whether innocently or intentionally misused to get high, everyday products -- and less common ones such as "laughing gas" -- are no laughing matter.

I'm troubled to hear that only one-fourth of America's children have what one study calls "hands-on" parents -- parents who have established rules and expectations for their teens' behavior, and who monitor what their teens do and where they are during evenings and weekends. That one-fourth of our youth are at one-quarter the risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs as those with "hands-off" parents.

It is vital that parents take an active role with their kids, so that their youngsters refrain from abusing inhalants and other dangerous substances. Introducing them to the tantalizing fumes of a good, home-cooked meal is an excellent place to start. Children are like flowers. They blossom in the sunshine of interested, involved parents.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $7.90 ($9 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Cookbooklets, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111; (816) 932-6600