Teen Advocacy Coalition, TAC, staff recently attended the annual Tobacco-Free Alliance of Pierce County, or TAP, Summit. This was a great opportunity to learn more about how tobacco and nicotine products are affecting youth near our area. This year, TAP was very focused on e-cigarettes and their appeal with youth in Pierce County. If youth in the Tacoma area are experimenting with e-cigarettes, then, as unlikely as it may seem, there is the strong possibility that these devices will soon become popular with youth in our area.
Some of you may be wondering, "What exactly is an 'e-cigarette'?" E-cigarette stands for electronic cigarette. These devices are made up of three basic components: a power source, typically a battery, an e-liquid that contains nicotine and atomizer (a device that emits liquid, as a fine spray).
Within the e-cigarettes is something referred to as vapor or e-liquid. Dr. Jessica K. Pepper, Center for Regulatory Research on Tobacco Communication, University of North Carolina, spoke openly at the TAP Summit. "The components of these liquids are: propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavoring. Research has shown that the nicotine levels can vary from 6-36 mg/l" Pepper said, "Even though users can find nicotine-free brands, tests are showing traces of nicotine can still be found within the vapor." Whenever someone uses the term "vaping", it means using an E-cigarette or vapor device. At this time, e-liquid manufactures are not held accountable by any FDA regulations.
So, how do e-cigarettes affect youth? Well, the nearly 8,000 flavors are a good starting point. These flavors can range anywhere from caramel, cheesecake, gummy bear and even chocolate. During a panel discussion, youth revealed that students are using e-devices because adults cannot detect the smell of the candy scented vapor on their clothing.
The marketing aspects of e-cigarettes are very similar to the marketing used for tobacco. According to the National Cancer Institute, there has been a 256% increase in e-cigarette advertising since 2011. With themes like "sex and glamour", "freedom and rebellion" and even "fun and healthy", researchers are discovering 31% of youth think e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes.
At this point, there are only state and local regulations that are preventing sales to minors. According to Washington State RCW 26.28.080, every person who sells or gives, or permits to be sold or given, to any person under the age of eighteen years any vapor product is guilty of a misdemeanor - just like cigarettes. Because e-cigarettes are still an emerging market, there hasn't been much research regarding the long term health effects of vapor smoke and secondhand vapor smoke. However, this doesn't mean there won't be any dangers and it definitely doesn't mean youth should be using them. Counties across Washington State are starting to re-evaluate their polices around e-cigarettes and their availability to minors.
In 2010, King County created regulation which prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in all public places, parks and fairgrounds. Key leaders in King County argued that by eliminating all tobacco and nicotine products, there would be less confusion where it is legal or illegal to smoke. This regulation is following in the same footsteps of the Clean Air Act of 2005. In other words, restaurants, schools, bars, hospitals and bus stations have a zero tolerance policy for vaping.
These products are evolving in more ways than one; now is the time to start the discussion with youth regarding the hazards of e-cigarettes and whether or not we want these products used in Pacific County public places. TAC wants to invite you to attend the next monthly meeting and start the conversation about e-cigarettes.
TAC's next monthly meeting will be Monday January 12th at the Raymond High School Library at 3:15 p.m. For more information, like TAC on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teenadvocacycoalition or email firstname.lastname@example.org.