Even before they surveyed hundreds of residents on the issue, high-schoolers Mitchell van der Noll and Aiden Williams knew e-cigarettes was a growing problem among teenagers in town.
The high school seniors, who distributed the survey as interns with Town Hall this spring, said the number of students using the devices has “exploded” over the last year or two.
Students can be found smoking e-cigarettes in the high school bathrooms, in the parking lots, at parties outside of school and most recently, at the middle schools, they said. Most use the newest device, a Juul vape pen.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” Williams said. “You can see anyone from any social group using them at kind of any time. If you go into the bathroom at the high school there’s probably a greater than 50 percent chance you would find someone (smoking).”
The survey, distributed on a community Facebook page, revealed that Ridgefielders are taking notice. More than 39 percent of the 240 people surveyed said e-cigarettes surpass alcohol, heroin, marijuana and cocaine as the “most relevant substance abuse problem in our community today.”
About 97 percent said they have heard of the “widespread usage amongst teenagers” and almost 91 percent that they knew about high schoolers vaping in bathrooms during school.
With elected state leaders still mostly just blowing smoke, Minnesota’s cities continue to take steps to improve health, clear the air, and prevent young Minnesotans from being ensnared by the deadly dangers of cigarettes and tobacco use.
Last week, St. Peter became the ninth Minnesota city in just a little over a year to raise the legal age to buy tobacco to 21. It joined Edina, St. Louis Park, Bloomington, Plymouth, North Mankato, Shoreview, Falcon Heights, and Minneapolis in passing so-called “Tobacco 21” policies.
“Seeing local entities take charge of tobacco-prevention measures in their communities: That is so encouraging to us,” Anne Mason of the Minneapolis-based smoking-cessation group ClearWay Minnesota said in an interview last summer with the News Tribune Opinion page.
At that time, only Edina had raised the legal age to buy tobacco, and only a couple of other cities in our state were taking their first steps. Imagine Mason’s giddiness now.
“(Raising the legal age) takes it out of a high school kid’s social circle. If (tobacco companies) don’t get to you before age 21, chances are you won’t become an addicted adult,” she said. “(Local communities taking charge, taking action) is how great policies have passed in the past, and clearly Duluth has been a leader in this, in protecting clean indoor air, even with e-cigarettes, before the state had acted.”
This year, we are celebrating 10 years of a Smoke Free Illinois. This law, while controversial when it was being passed, has become a new, healthier norm. Most young adults barely remember when smoking was allowed everywhere and cannot comprehend people smoking in restaurants and public spaces.
Now, it is time for another new, healthy norm: Tobacco 21. Why 21? Increasing the minimum legal age for sale of tobacco products to 21 years of age will significantly reduce youth tobacco use and over time save thousands of lives.
For 17 years, the teen tobacco use rate in our state was on the decline thanks to education and strong laws that kept this addictive and deadly product out of the hands of our youth. Now, because of heavy advertising, easy access, concealable electronic cigarettes and fruit and candy flavors, tobacco use is once again increasing among Illinois teens. In fact, in 2015 (the latest data available) 32.8 percent of Illinois high school youth reported using tobacco products.
Tobacco 21 laws focus on protecting youth from the death and disease associated with tobacco use. Nearly 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started smoking before they turned 21. If we can keep young people from getting hooked on tobacco products before their 21st birthday, they will likely never become addicted.
Tobacco 21 is our opportunity to stop the tobacco industry from capturing today’s young people as tomorrow’s customers. The American Lung Association encourages elected officials at all levels to support Tobacco 21 policies.
Many American teens wouldn’t dream of lighting up a cigarette. They know that tobacco smoking is an easily acquired and often deadly habit. Too many, however, shrug off companion health warnings and fire up e-cigarettes instead.
Now Illinois lawmakers are poised to make that harder by raising to 21 from 18 the legal age to buy tobacco or e-cigarette products. The Illinois Senate has approved a measure on a 35-20 vote; the proposal now moves to the House.
We urge lawmakers to vote yes, and Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the bill into law.
This is not a Nanny State overreach into the personal habits of Illinoisans. It’s a smart way to help some unknowable percentage of young people from decisions that they and their families would regret for decades to come.
We’re sure that lawmakers hear many of the same arguments against this proposal that we have: 18-year-olds serve in the military and vote, why can’t they buy cigarettes or e-cigarettes? We say no for the same reason that we supported a statewide ban on smoking in public places a decade ago. Because it’s a public health imperative that yields huge benefits. Anyone miss those smoky restaurants? Anyone?
“Columbus City Council members passed the “Tobacco 21” bill on Monday, 7-0. The legislation was sponsored by President Pro Tem Priscilla Tyson.
Dr. Rob Crane said this new law is a prevention tool that really works. He’s a clinical professor at The Ohio State University, as well as founder and president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.
“I think we introduced the first legislation in Ohio 20 years ago,” he said. “It took a long time to kind of get traction, but now that we have several reports from the Surgeon General, from the Institute of Medicine, we really see the science behind this.”
He cites the book, “Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products,” which was a study requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in 2013.
“Moving tobacco to 21 will save according to this book, about 4.2 million years of life just among kids alive today,” said Dr. Crane. “Studies in Massachusetts have shown that it reduces high school smoking by about half.””