DPH data indicate ‘vaping’ on the rise among youth

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Use of traditional tobacco products by teenagers has steadily declined over the last decade, but the use of newer “vape” products such as e-cigarettes is on the rise, according to data recently released by the Department of Public Health.
 
In 2015, 15.9 percent of high school students identified themselves as users of tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars or smokeless tobacco), while 23.7 percent reported using vape products, according to the DPH.
 
Nearly half (44.8 percent) of the responding high school students reported that they have at least tried vape products, more than triple the rate among responding adults.
 
While vape products do not deliver the most dangerous components of traditional tobacco – mainly tar – the public health rationale for including vape products in local tobacco sales regulations is that users may be using homemade solutions, some of which may contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
 
Vaping solutions, or “e-juice,” contain chemicals that are inhaled, and even those that claim to be “zero nicotine” may not be truly free of nicotine. Studies indicate that nicotine can permanently affect the developing adolescent brain, causing developmental problems similar to those resulting from marijuana use.
 
A fact sheet released last year by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office said brain development continues until the early- to mid-20s.
 
“Nicotine exposure during periods of significant brain development, such as adolescence, can disrupt the growth of brain circuits that control attention, learning, and susceptibility to addiction,” the fact sheet states.
 
Four policies are suitable for local enactment to stem the surge of vaping, while maintaining the low use rate of traditional tobacco products in Massachusetts.
 
More than 200 municipalities, accounting for 83 percent of the state’s population, have expanded their tobacco regulations to include vape products, requiring retailers of vape products to obtain a local tobacco sales permit. Of the 209 municipalities, 126 have banned e-cigarette use in smoke-free locations to protect the public from the unknown contents of vapors.
 
Ninety municipalities have enacted language from the city of Providence, R.I., which has been tested in federal court, extending the 2009 federal ban on flavored (except menthol) cigarettes to all kinds of tobacco and vape products, with an an exemption for qualifying “adult-only” retailers.
 
In the federal 2009 action, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicated that flavored cigarettes can be considered a “starter” product that helps establish smoking habits, especially among youth. A federal study found that 81 percent of youths between ages 12 and 17 who reported ever using an e-cigarette started with a flavored version, and that 85.3 percent of current vapers used a flavored version within the last month.
 
More than a decade ago, Needham became the first jurisdiction in the country to raise its minimum legal sales age for tobacco to 21. Since that time, 147 Massachusetts municipalities, accounting for two-thirds of the state’s population, have raised their sales age from 18 to 21.
 
Studies indicate that delaying the first use of a nicotine product may reduce the risk of nicotine addiction. In 2015, the Institute of Medicine agreed with an assessment concluding that raising the minimum sales age for tobacco to 21 will likely reduce tobacco initiation, particularly among adolescents aged 15 to 17.
 
Seventy municipalities have enacted policies that prevent new retailers from obtaining a tobacco sales permit if their store is within 500 feet of an elementary or secondary school. These policies affect only new retailers, and the language provides exceptions for permit renewals and for a buyer of an existing tobacco sales permit who wishes to continue selling tobacco.
 
For more information about these policies, contact D.J. Wilson at the MMA.