Bill Frist, Forbes Contributor
The vaping crisis has reached a tipping point. Today, Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testified before Congress about the number of severe vaping-related illnesses. “We are seeing more and more cases each day. I suspect weekly numbers will be higher,” Schuchat said. She was speaking to the House of Representatives which began public hearings this week about the mystery vaping-related lung disease that has sickened 530 people in 38 states and killed nine.
These statistics are frightening enough but paired with last week’s National Institutes of Health data on teen e-cigarette use and the crisis is clear: vaping is dangerous in ways we don’t yet understand, and a rapidly growing population of our teens are using the devices and becoming nicotine dependent.
Last week NIH shared data from the 2019 Monitoring the Future Survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders. The findings show alarmingly high rates of e-cigarette use compared to just a year ago, with rates doubling in the past two years.
“With 25% of 12th graders, 20% of 10th graders and 9% of eighth graders now vaping nicotine within the past month, the use of these devices has become a public health crisis,” said National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow when the data were made public. “These products introduce the highly addictive chemical nicotine to these young people and their developing brains, and I fear we are only beginning to learn the possible health risks and outcomes for youth.”
In a letter to editor of the New England Journal of Medicine last week, scientists from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor who coordinated the survey wrote: “Of particular concern are the accompanying increases in the proportions of youth who are physically addicted to nicotine, an addiction that is very difficult to overcome once established… New efforts are needed to protect youth from using nicotine during adolescence, when the developing brain is particularly susceptible to permanent changes from nicotine use and when almost all nicotine addiction is established.”
These scientists are absolutely right.
Earlier this year NashvilleHealth, a community collaborative I founded in 2015, partnered with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, to survey Tennesseans
about strengthening tobacco and e-cigarette policy in our state.
In Tennessee, one immediate if partial solution is to increase the minimum age for tobacco sales including vaping from 18 to 21. In our survey we found that support for raising the vaping and tobacco sales age to 21 is broad and deep across the state, crossing partisan, ideological, demographic and geographic lines. Our poll showed 63% of Tennessee voters support increasing the minimum age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21, and 86% believe vaping products and e-cigarettes should be included.
The majority of voters in Tennessee—seven in 10—report being concerned about smoking and other tobacco use among young people in the state, and 77% are concerned about the use of e-cigarettes among young people.
NashvilleHealth and the Metro Public Health Department recently released key findings from our city’s first health and well-being assessment in 20 years. We found that in Davidson County, 25.3% of all adults reported having used a vaping product. Young adults aged 18-29 were found to report higher levels (9.5%) of current use, as were those currently without health insurance (17.0%). Among this younger demographic, more people reported vaping (13.7%) than smoking (12.2%).
We already know that tobacco use adds an astounding $170 billion to our annual healthcare costs. Vaping and the nicotine addictions it spawns may prove just as costly. It is time to take action.
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