What’s the issue?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey found that there was a 78 percent increase in high schoolers using e-cigarettes from 2017 to 2018, with use among middle-schoolers jumping by nearly 50 percent. Nearly 70 percent of high schoolers who “vape” use flavors, and more than half of high schoolers that vape already use mint and menthol, according to FDA and CDC data. 3,200 young people try a cigarette for the first time every day, and 90 percent of adults who smoke daily report that they first used cigarettes before the age of 19.
Federal policy recommendations for the CDC include raising the minimum tobacco age to 21, requiring manufacturers to substantiate claims that these products are truly safe and effective before allowing them to sell to consumers and cracking down down on marketing and selling to youth, including mint and menthol flavors.
How do vaping and e-cigarettes impact Utah?
Utah’s youth use rates of e-cigarettes have tripled since 2011 (according to the Utah Department of Health) and teens are more likely to use e-cigarettes than any other tobacco product on the market. According to the FDA, youth and young adults cited flavors as a main reason for e-cigarette use. 74% of flavored tobacco obtained illegally by youth comes from convenience stores versus other tobacco retailers that must adhere to stricter guidelines that better limit the ability of our children to obtain flavored tobacco products.
Despite the success of the reduction in cigarette use, e-cigarette and flavored tobacco product use by youth and adults has dramatically increased, posing another public health risk. Data shows that reducing youth access to tobacco prevents future adult use. Adult tobacco users that reported the first tobacco product they used being flavored had a 32% percent higher prevalence of current tobacco product use. For youth, tobacco use poses an added risk: research shows that using substances like nicotine before the age of 25 can impact brain development resulting in difficulty learning.
What’s happening in Utah?
In the 2019 State Legislative Session, three bills were proposed. HB 324 by Rep. Steve Eliason (R-Sandy) passed, raising the minimum age for tobacco use to 21. HB 274 by Rep. Jen Dailey-Provost (D-SLC) was pulled by the sponsor after bad amendments were made to it. That bill would have required flavored tobacco products to be sold in specialty tobacco stores only, which use stricter screening procedures to reduce youth access to products that can currently be easily purchased by underage teens at convenience stores. Another bill that failed, HB 252 by Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield), would have raised the tax on electronic cigarettes and other vapor products to 86 percent of the manufacturer’s sales price, which would have been one of the highest rates in the nation. Action Utah expects to see more legislation addressing growing tobacco use, particularly in youths, at the 2020 state legislative session.
Meanwhile, students, school administrators, teachers and parents are crying out for solutions to address the dramatic increase in tobacco use by youth in Utah. Some are taking matters into their own hands. For instance, students in Davis County formed Students Against Electronic Vaping (SAEV) with a goal of reversing the student e-cig use trend by educating classmates about the negative health effects of electronic cigarettes and getting those already addicted the help they need.