Sarah Stultz: How can we reverse trend of youth vaping?

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2023

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Nose for News by Sarah Stultz

I eagerly read the news article that came out Monday about the settlement Minnesota reached in its lawsuit against e-cigarette maker Juul Labs and tobacco giant Altria.

According to the Associated Press article I read, the settlement came ahead of closing arguments after three weeks of trial, in which prosecutors highlighted actions that Juul and Altria took that contributed to the youth vaping epidemic.

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The company had previously settled with 47 other states, providing over $1 billion to combat underage use and to develop cessation plans, the company said.

E-cigarette companies have long argued that the purpose of the vaping products was to convert adult smokers of regular cigarettes to what they’ve called a less-dangerous product. But attorneys for the state argued that Juul unlawfully targeted young people with their products.

I remember about six years ago, I was out of state visiting a family member who was graduating from high school. This family member and some of his other siblings were using vape pens.

At that time, I had not been around people who used the devices, and I feel like they were starting to become more popular.

I think there was a misconception about what they were and how they were different from conventional cigarettes. The idea was floating around that they were just water vapor and that they could actually help people to stop smoking regular cigarettes.

Fast forward six years, and I see a handful of youth cited each week it seems for e-cigarettes at our local schools and I have seen other close teenagers fall victim to vaping.

The devices have evolved over the years and come in many different shapes and sizes — some even looking like USB flash drives or pens.

While these devices create an aerosol that looks like water vapor, it actually contains nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals. It is inhaled into the lungs where these chemicals move into the bloodstream.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, e-cigarette use has nearly doubled from 2016 to 2019 with youth, with one in four 11th graders now using the devices. The use by adults has also risen in recent years.

The health agency states that use of the products can increase the risk for addiction and worsen chronic health conditions such as asthma. There have also been reports of other vaping-associated lung injuries among teens and adults. Studies have shown that the toxins can not only cause lung disease but cardiovascular disease as well.

It’s sad to see youth become addicted to these type of devices at such an early age, and I hope that the settlement that our state has made with the companies will be put to good use in educating youth about the risks.

We must reverse the trend that has taken place in recent years with youth and vaping.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.