SALT LAKE CITY – New numbers show Utah has more kids who are struggling with nicotine addiction than ever before – now, state leaders are pushing their support for vaping related legislation in the hopes of finding solutions to the ‘youth vaping epidemic.’
You’ve probably seen and smelled them before; people smoking e-cigarettes and other vaping products, leaving behind a dense, white puff of sweet-smelling smoke.
The vaping and e-cigarette fad has boomed in recent years – but according to the American Heart Association, so has use among middle and high school students.
“37,767 – At more than 12.4-percent of our middle school and high school students, that is the number of students that we have struggling with nicotine addiction in our state right now,” said Marc Watterson with the American Heart Association. “We are absolutely at a public health crisis when it comes to the youth and their health.”
Sold in a wide array of flavors in brightly colored packaging, some believe that is part of the problem.
“They’re starting because of the flavors, but they’re getting addicted because of the nicotine,” said Stuart Hudnall, an assistant principal at Herriman High School.
“What you see on my left here is the collection that we’ve confiscated from students,” Hudnall said referencing a tabletop, covered in dozens of e-cigarette and vaping related products.
Hudnall said a few years ago the school would maybe deal with one tobacco incident a year, now they deal with one a week.
“It’s become a problem because it’s easy to hide, we have students that are smoking during class,” Hudnall said. “It’s happening in the bathrooms, it’s happening in their cars, it’s happening everywhere that we can find it.”
Hudnall believes the issue goes beyond the device itself, but the addiction it creates.
“They can’t go the entire class period without taking a hit,” Hudnall said. “We talk with kids that are having to use the nicotine or Nicorette Patch, Nicorette Gum, they’re having to have nicotine fixes in other ways because they can’t function at school without it.”
Hudnall was one of many community members and state leaders who spoke in support of vaping legislation at the capitol, Wednesday – all of whom hoped to find a solution to what they refer to as ‘the youth vaping epidemic,’ before it fosters more addiction.
“What, to me, the vaping phenomenon has done is, it’s started to normalize tobacco use again,” said Utah Attorney General, Sean Reyes.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, which was released in December of 2019, an estimated 5.4-million middle and high school students in the U.S (approximately 20-percent of all students) recently used e-cigarettes – among those surveyed, 11-percent reported daily use.
Speakers believe Utah legislators are working to make strides in ending the epidemic during this legislative session – eight legislators have introduced bills on vaping, including:
HB-23, Tobacco Retailer Amendments: Establishes a no-tolerance policy for selling nicotine products to minors.
SB-37, Electronic Cigarette and Other Nicotine Products Amendment: Establishes a new tax on nicotine products to be used for the hiring of officers to enforce violations, including vaping products. SB-40, which establishes guidelines for schools regarding e-cigarettes, will also be incorporated here.
HB-118, Retail Tobacco Specialty Business Amendments: Requires that e-cigarettes are moved to age-restricted areas of the stores, so youths don’t see and become enticed by vaping product flavors.
Other legislation in process, includes an amendment regarding electronic cigarettes in schools, a tobacco product amendment, and a tobacco age amendment which would establish a program to discourage youth from using vaping products until the age of 21.
The American Heart Association said there is no ‘silver bullet’ to creating change – instead, they have released a list of six key priorities (listed below) which they believe will work to keep tobacco products out of the hands of children and protect public health.
- Tax e-cigarettes and vaping products to ensure they are treated like all other tobacco products.
- Bring Utah’s tobacco 21 laws into conformity with the new federal law, giving immediate enforcement to the state and eliminating all previous exemptions.
- Remove all characterizing flavors from the marketplace for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, hookah, smokeless and other.
- Remove current restrictions in state code so local communities can find their own solutions to keep tobacco away from kids.
- Enhance current definitions in state code for smoking, e-cigarettes, Retail Tobacco Specialty Stores, and more.
- Strengthen current restrictions on internet sales of tobacco products and assign enforcement.