Last December, the nation’s top doctor, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, issued a rare advisory declaring youth e-cigarette use an epidemic. As lawmakers, physicians and parents, that captured our attention.
Since then, it’s become clear that vaping products are not the clean alternatives to tobacco or the quit-smoking devices they were thought to be.
Three Minnesotans have lost their lives and 84 more have experienced severe lung injury associated with vaping. Athletes are having trouble breathing during workouts, students are having trouble concentrating, and educators are spending time during class monitoring for kids sneaking hits of nicotine.
Surge has undone years of progress
Today, an estimated 5 million young people in the United States regularly vape e-cigarettes, a figure that includes more than one in four 11th–graders. These statistics demonstrate what we already know. We’ve seen it before. The surge in vaping use among young people has undone years of progress in falling cigarette smoking rates, and young people are unknowingly causing long-term damage to their health and well-being.
High school students have told us about vaping products marketed directly to students their age: child-friendly flavors like bubble-gum and peach, smoking devices disguised as flash drives, even a hoodie with draw-strings that can be used for vaping. The high nicotine content and sleek devices have created a recipe for addiction that needs to be stopped.
As physicians, we’ve seen firsthand how nicotine harms the developing brain and can cause long-term damage. We’ve seen how mood disorders, impulse control issues, attention and learning problems can result from nicotine exposure. We’ve seen more and more women vaping during pregnancy, with unknown effects on their developing fetus.
Vaping is a relatively new public health crisis – we haven’t even begun to understand the extent of its damage. And it’s not our kids’ fault. They are the victims of multimillion-dollar ad campaigns designed to bring in new business for Big Tobacco.
Young people are targeted
In fact, nearly 90 percent of high school students have seen ads for e-cigarettes in the past 30 days and Big Tobacco companies do not overlook any age group. E-cigarette giant JUUL has targeted kids as young as 8 years old with predatory marketing campaigns that include summer camps, school programs, and social media influencers. These companies will continue to profit by pedaling these products to children unless we take legislative action.
We will not let Big Tobacco hook another generation on their addictive, deadly products under a veneer of safety. On Oct. 28, the House DFL Caucus released our comprehensive policy agenda to tackle teen vaping and nicotine addiction. Here are the highlights of our proposal:
- By raising the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21, we will limit youth targeting.
- We will reduce youth access by stopping internet sales of tobacco, e-cigarette, and vaping products.
- By prohibiting sales of all flavored tobacco products in our state, we will reduce the appeal of tobacco products for vulnerable populations.
- We will support prevention efforts with a dedicated office to combat the immense pressure of the tobacco industry with effective countermarketing.
- Finally, we will fight to ensure that every Minnesotan has access to quit-smoking resources to help them break free from addiction. We’ll promote the state’s quitting program and remove barriers that prevent Medicaid patients and others from accessing quit-smoking medications and therapy.
Youth nicotine addiction isn’t just affecting families – it is touching health clinics, schools, and communities in every corner of Minnesota. This is about protecting our kids, and it’s time to take bold action to hold Big Tobacco accountable.
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