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Advocates want more done to fight youth e-cigarette use

The American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2019 report card for New York.
January 29, 2019 10:06 pm

Youth and adult cigarette smoking rates are at an all-time low across the state, but e-cigarette use is on the rise and health experts want more done to combat this at the federal, state and local levels, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

The association’s 2019 Tobacco Control Report to the state was unveiled in a conference call Tuesday.

Rates for adults smoking traditional cigarettes are at 14 percent across the state, while 7.6 percent of high school students report they smoke cigarettes, American Lung Association State Public Policy National Assistant Vice President Michael Seilback said.

In Columbia County, 18.9 percent of adults smoke, while in Greene the rate is 14.9 percent, according to a state Department of Health report released in May 2018.

Between 2017 and 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students rose by 78 percent and more than 1 million children started using e-cigarettes in the past year, American Lung Association National spokeswoman Payel Gupta said.

Secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes contain nicotine, ultra-fine particles, a chemical called diacetyl linked to serious lung disease and volatile organic compounds such as benzine and heavy metals.

“This has led the U.S. Surgeon General to call youth e-cigarette use an epidemic in December 2018,” Gupta said. “Once you start smoking any kind of nicotine products, it’s really hard to quit.”

Raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 will prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer, Gupta said.

“There are also studies that show adolescents and young adults are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction,” she said.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease nationwide, killing more than 480,000 Americans every year and more aggressive action by federal, state and local governments is needed to combat usage, Seilback said,

“This could set the stage for not only another generation of Americans addicted to tobacco products, but ultimately more tobacco-caused death and disease,” Seilback said. “The failure to apply proven effective policies to other tobacco products, including cigars and e-cigarettes, is directly responsible for the dramatic rise in youth e-cigarette use.”

The state received an A grade for having smoke-free air, a B for implementing taxes on tobacco products, and an F for not providing enough funding for tobacco-prevention programs, Seilback said.

“Unfortunately, in New York, we’re not doing enough,” he said.

The state’s Tobacco Control Program is funded at $39 million, a sharp contrast to more than $200 million the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state spends on tobacco control, Seilback said. More of the $2 billion the state receives from taxes on tobacco products and master settlement agreements could be used to help fund the program.

“New York has an obligation to use more of that money to help smokers quit,” he said. “The prescription to fight the epidemic use of e-cigarettes is for New York state to devote more resources and more money to win this fight.”

Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia & Greene Counties is concerned about the increased use of e-cigarettes among high school students, which rose from 10 percent in 2014 to 27.4 percent in 2018, Program Director Karen dePeyster said.

“We are very alarmed about this, as are people in the schools,” she said.

Students like to smoke the JUUL brand of e-cigarettes because they come in enticing fruit flavors and are easy to sneak into school because they don’t resemble a traditional cigarette, dePeyster said. One JUUL e-cigarette contains as much tobacco as one pack of traditional cigarettes.

“It’s very sleek and high-tech. It looks like a flash drive,” dePeyster said. “The JUUL brand has very high concentrations of nicotine.”

The organization supports the proposal to raise the age to purchase cigarettes and other vaping products because 96 percent of people start smoking by 21. It is an effective measure to prevent teen usage of tobacco and e-cigarettes, dePeyster said.

“If you make it that far by not smoking, you’ve dodged a deadly bullet,” she said.

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.