When smoking goes down like gummy bears it’s no surprise that nicotine use among teens is rising at a critical rate.

The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey reports 1 in 4 high school juniors had used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days — a 54% increase from 2016.

The same survey alarmingly showed use by eighth graders has doubled since 2016, with 11% of middle schoolers surveyed saying they have vaped in the last month.

This, amid the fact that more than 1,600 people have suffered vaping-related illnesses in the United States (including 39 deaths), should be enough to spur Minnesota into action.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the causes of the lung injuries have not been identified, but in all cases the patients reported the use of vaping products. Findings suggest products containing THC, especially those obtained illegally, are linked to most of the cases.

One in 3 students who vape report trying it with THC. Illegal in Minnesota, those drug-infused cartridges bought on the street are putting teens at risk of illness or even death.

These young Minnesotans might not be lighting up a Marlboro, but the same company that makes them is cashing in. Altria, one of the world’s largest cigarette manufacturers, owns 35% of Juul, which holds the market share on e-cigarettes.

The FDA put Juul on notice earlier this fall when it warned the company that marketing its products as safer alternatives to cigarettes is a violation of the law. In September Juul announced it would suspend TV, print and digital ads. Last week, Juul announced it would stop selling its very popular mint flavor.

What’s in it for Big Tobacco?

Research shows that teens who try e-cigarettes are nearly four times as likely to start smoking cigarettes.

With smoking rates at an all-time low, according to the Center for Disease Control — 14% of people smoked in 2017 compared to 42% in 1965 — the lucrative tobacco industry needed to create its next generation of customers.

Our kids are easy prey, targeted with candy-flavored “vape juice” and games of who can vape in prohibited places and not get caught. And they are unaware of the risks. Of those students who reported vaping in the last month, three-quarters of them said there is either no, slight or only a moderate risk to using e-cigarettes.

That isn’t true.

While the vapor inhaled when using an e-cigarette contains fewer chemicals than regular cigarettes, users are still exposed to an unknown cocktail. E-cigarettes have not been around long enough to understand the health impacts and the FDA has not required manufacturers to report ingredients.

Also, e-cigarettes are just as addictive as regular cigarettes.

“Nicotine can impact learning, memory and attention span, and contributes to future addiction to tobacco and other substances. E-cigarettes can also be used to vape other substances – including illegal THC products that have been associated with the Minnesota cases of severe lung injuries,” the Minnesota Department of Health reports.

After failing to get traction in last year’s session, a group of Minnesota legislators has recommitted to taking action. Gov. Tim Walz also has pledged his support. To date, more than 50 cities and counties in Minnesota have increased local age restrictions to 21.

While they should be commended for taking that step, inconsistent regulations make it easy for a young adult between the ages of 18 and 21 to buy tobacco-related products.

It’s time to make it state law.

Along with increasing the legal purchasing age for all nicotine-related products, Minnesota also needs to enact stricter regulations on e-cigarettes, including a ban on flavored nicotine. So far, 13 Minnesota communities have approved restrictions on the sale of flavored nicotine products, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Robbinsdale, St. Louis Park and Golden Valley. Like the Tobacco 21 movement, a statewide ban is needed for maximum impact.

A robust educational campaign is necessary so our young people understand the dangers of engaging in a serious health risk.

Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and vaping hasn’t been around long enough for us to know the long-term health consequences.

It’s time for Minnesota to step in.

- An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: editorial.board@ecm-inc.com.

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