Families warned of youth tobacco use during Freeborn County advocacy meeting

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, November 9, 2017

Family members of Freeborn County youth were warned of the dangers of tobacco use Wednesday at First Lutheran Church.

In a joint meeting of the American Lung Association, Freeborn County Partners in Prevention, Physician Advocacy Network and community members, presenters shared statistics and other information about the forms of tobacco available to youth in Freeborn County.

Grace Higgins of Physician Advocacy Network stated 19.4 percent of Freeborn County youth used electronic cigarettes in the last 30 days, higher than the state average of 17.1 percent.

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From 2013 to 2016, the use of traditional cigarettes decreased from 19.1 percent to 6.5 percent, but the use of e-cigarettes increased during that time. That increase was connected by Higgins to a growth in e-cigarette advertising. She stated more than 57 percent of youth view such advertisements on television.

An estimated 60 percent of high schoolers who vape use another tobacco product, and 18 percent of adult Minnesotans have tried an e-cigarette, Higgins stated.

Higgins discussed the lack of regulations that have been in place for e-cigarettes and said she hopes warning labels will be placed on packaging in the next couple of years.

The evolution of electronic cigarettes from cig-a-likes to vaporizer pens and vaporizer mods was discussed.

An estimated 99.6 percent of electronic cigarettes contain nicotine. Nearly half of people reportedly believe e-cigarettes are less addicting than traditional tobacco products, and an estimated 70 percent of youth tobacco users had at least one flavored tobacco product in the last 30 days.

Menthol cigarette products are believed to be more popular than non-menthol products among youth, and 18 percent of youth have tried hookah, Higgins stated.

Pete Dehnel of the Physician Advocacy Network said though limited information about the health effects of electronic cigarettes are available, most of its materials come from tobacco, which he said is more addictive than narcotics.

By targeting advertising for people under the age of 21, tobacco companies are increasing their chances of having long-time consumers, said Dehnel, who described nicotine as highly addictive, increasing the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and having other negative effects. He discussed ways people can end tobacco use, including people who know the user asking open-ended questions about their future.

On a government level, Dehnel and Erin Simmons, senior manager with the American Lung Association, suggested supporting policies that protect youth from tobacco products and taking  other steps to decrease tobacco sales.

After leaving the meeting, grandparent Sue VanRyswyk said the presentation taught her a number of things about the dangers of electronic cigarettes.

“I was realizing how uninformed I really was about vaping,” she said.

VanRyswyk discussed how people can plug the battery of the electronic device into a computer and how some devices resemble USB cords. VanRyswyk became aware of how a lack of regulation for new tobacco products have led to fires. Nicotine in products can poison children.

“It was a very, very good presentation,” she said. “Lots of good information that I think people should know.”

Simmons, who led the audience in an educational game about tobacco following the presentation, after the meeting said she was pleased with the number of parents who attended the meeting.

“We’re so impressed with the number of parents that came out tonight, and my hope is that it raises parents’ awareness of what’s out there, because, like what I said earlier, our kids know, and parents need to know what we’re up against,” she said.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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