On December 18, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a rare and alarming advisory on youth e-cigarette use. Two recent national studies have confirmed that youth e-cigarette use has reached epidemic levels. In response, Molly Moilanen, vice president of ClearWay MinnesotaSM and co-chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 organizations working to reduce youth tobacco use, issued the following statement:
“Today the Surgeon General issued an advisory sounding one of the most pressing public health alarms.
“The nation is facing an epidemic of youth nicotine addiction driven primarily by insidious and flavored e-cigarette devices like JUUL. Research along with Minnesota parents and school administrators from across the state will tell you that Minnesota is no exception to this dangerous trend.
“We need a comprehensive, common-sense approach to reducing youth tobacco use in Minnesota. Raising the tobacco age to 21, restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes in smoke-free air laws, investing in robust youth prevention programs and keeping the price of tobacco products high are good starting points.
“Our coalition looks forward to working together with lawmakers in the coming session to advance these policies that will help us counteract youth tobacco use and save lives.”
Nicotine harms the developing adolescent brain no matter how it’s delivered and it may prime the brain for addiction to cigarettes and other substances. The 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey found that youth tobacco use rose for the first time in 17 years, largely due to a nearly 50-percent increase in e-cigarette use. The increase in youth tobacco use threatens decades of progress to lower youth smoking rates.
Minnesota cities and counties have helped lead the way with bold tobacco prevention policies. To date, 20 Minnesota communities have passed “Tobacco 21” policies. Six cities have restricted the sale of all flavored tobacco products (including menthol) to adult-only stores and three cities have restricted sales of candy-flavored tobacco products. Finally, 24 counties and 31 cities have included e-cigarettes in their smoke-free air laws.
Minnesota youth tobacco trends (source: 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey):
• Almost 40 percent of high-school students have tried e-cigarettes, which come in kid-friendly flavors like gummy bear and cotton candy.
• Nearly one in five high-school students report using e-cigarettes in the past month — a nearly 50-percent surge in high-school use from 13 percent in 2014.
• 88 percent of high-school and middle-school students reported they had seen advertisements promoting e-cigarettes.
• Nicotine is addictive and can harm the adolescent brain (source: U.S. Surgeon General).
• The tobacco industry spends more than $100 million every year marketing and advertising its products in Minnesota (source: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids).
• Nearly 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started before age 21 (source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health).
• State and federal health officials have previously raised alarms about surging youth nicotine use in a health advisory; the Minnesota Department of Health called youth nicotine addiction a “major health concern” because nicotine in e-cigarettes can prime youth for future addiction.
• FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has stated that “e-cigarette use among youth has hit epidemic proportions.”