For Immediate Release: December 13, 2019
Contact: Rebecca Boulos (207-450-0649)
Public Health Association Sounds the Alarm on Doubling of Youth E-Cigarette Use
Immediate Action Needed to Protect Kids from Nicotine Addiction
Statement of Rebecca Boulos, Executive Director, Maine Public Health Association
Our kids are our future. It is our job to ensure the health of Maine’s children. As today’s announcement makes clear, the e-cigarette epidemic is putting our children and their future in serious jeopardy. We cannot let the tobacco industry destroy the health of another generation with addiction, cancer, and heart and lung disease. What we do in the next six months will make all the difference.
Today, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) released findings from the 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which show a near doubling in youth e-cigarette use since 2017 (28.7% vs. 15.3%), with some of the greatest increases seen in Piscataquis (26.6% vs. 6.7%) and Oxford (30.9% vs. 12.3%) counties.
This news has shocked many of us, and to parents of teenagers, it has also affirmed what so many have been telling us – that vaping is an equal-opportunity scourge. E-cigarettes are a risk to every child, in every community, across the state.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of December 10, 2019, a total of 2,409 individuals have been hospitalized due to e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI). Fifty-two EVALI-related deaths have been confirmed in 26 states and the District of Columbia.
In Maine, this past legislative session brought much hope, with a landmark investment in Maine’s tobacco prevention and control program – $11.8 million, a nearly 300% increase in the program’s budget – and tax equalization across tobacco products, which will make it more costly for youth to afford e-cigarettes. We commend the Administration for its commitment to releasing a comprehensive communications campaign in 2020, and strongly support its proposal to require all individuals who purchase tobacco products to be at least 21 years of age, thus removing the “grandfathered” provision in current legislation. These efforts give us hope that Maine is on the right path to turn the tide on this epidemic.
However, given the dramatic and alarming increase in youth tobacco use, and the clear risk of pulmonary illness and even death, we need more immediate action. We believe three additional and immediate steps must be taken. Maine needs to:
- Join the 8 other states that have already banned e-cigarettes. In recognition of the alarming youth vaping epidemic, Rhode Island, Oregon, Montana, New York, Utah, Washington, Massachusetts, and Michigan have all banned e-cigarettes. A recent study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, compared e-cigarettes with nicotine replacement therapy as strategies to quit smoking cigarettes. After one year, researchers found that among participants who had quit smoking, 80% of e-cigarette users were still using e-cigarettes, compared with just 9% of those using NRT. In other words, while both groups were able to quit smoking traditional cigarettes; those who had replaced cigarettes with e-cigarettes were still addicted to nicotine. These data demonstrate that while e-cigarettes are marketed as a cessation device; the evidence of their effectiveness is far from confirmed.
- Ban flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol flavors. We know that flavored tobacco products appeal to kids. In fact, youth tell us that appealing flavors are among the leading reasons they try, and continue to use, e-cigarettes. More than 85% of e-cigarette users ages 12-17 use flavored e-cigarettes, and more than 90% of young adult e-cigarette users use ones flavored to taste like menthol, alcohol, fruit, chocolate, or other sweets. Removing flavored tobacco products from the market will discourage youth use.
- Ensure that Maine’s annual payments from the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement are used as they were originally intended – to prevent youth from smoking and to help smokers quit. The Fund for a Healthy Maine is facing a serious financial shortfall in the coming years. It’s time to reconsider stronger protections for this significant source of funding for tobacco prevention and other public health priorities. Public opinion data from Spring 2019 show that 93% of Mainers believe it is important to prevent Maine youth from using tobacco products, including e-cigarettes; and 91% believe Maine should use tobacco settlement funds to prevent young people from starting to smoke and to help current tobacco users to quit.
The last time Maine received such devastating news was thirty years ago when we learned that Maine’s youth smoking rate was the highest in the nation. We took strong action then to turn things around. We can and must respond appropriately again. We commend the Mills’ Administration and the Maine Legislature for their investments in Maine’s tobacco prevention and control program. There is much to rebuild, and their actions to date are definitely moving us in the right direction. But today’s announcement makes clear that even more aggressive action is needed.
On behalf of every child, every parent, and every Maine community working hard for a brighter, healthier future, we urge policymakers to take strong and decisive action to prevent further harm from these deadly products.
The Maine Public Health Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving and sustaining the health and well-being of all Maine residents through health promotion, disease prevention, and the advancement of health equity. For more information, please visit: www.mainepublichealth.org.