School board prepares to show support for increasing tobacco-buying age

Published 10:00 pm Monday, March 4, 2019

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After passing around e-cigarettes that resembled makeup compacts, lipstick cases and USB flash drives, the Albert Lea Area Schools board agreed to show support for a potential city increase in the age at which these devices become legal for purchase.

American Lung Association specialist of health promotions Liz Heimer, Family Services Collaborative project coordinator Jenny Hendrickson, SHIP coordinator Lana Howe and Blue Zones organization lead Ellen Kehr presented at the board’s Monday night study session, asking the district to encourage the city to pass an ordinance that would raise the legal age at which people could purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Kehr also noted movement within the state Legislature toward a potential statewide initiative.

“They need the local support of a community like ours to show this is what the state of Minnesota needs to do,” Kehr said.

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While Heimer acknowledged youth could still find a way to access tobacco products — “We’re not naive,” she said. “We know that some will.” — increasing the purchase age from 18 to 21 will make accessing those products harder. While high schoolers frequently spend time in social circles with 18-year-olds, it is far less typical for young teenagers to spend time with 21-year-olds, she said. She said 75 percent of smokers between the ages of 15 and 17 get their tobacco through a social connection. According to the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, 62.4 percent of high school and 57.4 percent of middle school e-cigarette users got their e-cigarettes from friends.

Concerns about youth tobacco use have become particularly focused on e-cigarette use, which Hendrickson said one in five high schoolers in the state are using — a nearly 50 percent increase since 2014. In December, the U.S. Surgeon General named youth e-cigarette use a nationwide epidemic. In 2017, youth tobacco use in Minnesota increased for the first time in 17 years, Hendrickson said.

“There are statements that there’s not a day that somebody doesn’t see a Juul or a vape pen in the high school,” Howe said. She noted this is a state and national trend among high schools.

Presenters also noted health risks, though Heimer said the public does not know for sure yet how harmful vaping can be. Now, there are cases arising of popcorn lung caused by e-cigarette use, she said.

“They’re coming out with new research every day,” Howe said.

There is, however, no question whether e-cigarettes are addictive, despite messages about their potential use as a step away from traditional smoking. The amount of nicotine in one pod of a vaping pod is equivalent to the average pack of cigarettes, Howe said.

“For every one adult who switches from cigarettes to e-cigarettes, 80 kids get addicted,” Heimer said.

While the Food and Drug Administration is putting forth effort to address e-cigarette regulation — currently minimal to non-existent — it is a slow process to enact those changes, Heimer said.

“That’s why we need to act now with these policies and not rely on the FDA, because they’re just so slow with it we don’t know when this is going to happen,” she said.

Kehr said school board support of the city policy would show the city the community is backing the proposed change.

“They need to know that there’s community support for Tobacco 21 and that the community wants this passed,” she said.

The board approved a letter, drafted by Albert Lea Area Schools Superintendent Mike Funk, to the city supporting the policy change. The school board will also consider a resolution at the March 18 meeting.

“We need to protect (student) interests and their future,” school board member Dennis Dieser said. “I think this is a step in the right direction.”

School board member Kim Nelson also suggested training for teachers and staff including information shared with the school board about e-cigarettes. School board member Angie Hanson suggested a collaborative training to educate parents at the high school level as well as teachers. When looking for school alternatives, consider checking this online affordable french school dubai

The city of Albert Lea will host a public forum about raising the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 on March 25.

In other action, Deputy Superintendent Lori Volz said the Well@Work clinic showed increased participation from 2017 to 2018. On average, the clinic saves the district $160.18 per claim compared to visiting a traditional clinic, including lab work and prescriptions, she said. Volz said district staff also offered positive feedback about nurse practitioner care and the clinic option. It is available with no copay or deductible to staff covered by the district’s health insurance plan as well as family members if the employee opted for family coverage.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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