COLUMBUS – Reducing youth tobacco use in Ohio is becoming increasingly difficult, as kids and teens are branching out to such alternative products as electronic cigarettes.
A new report from the American Lung Association in Ohio has found reduced teen smoking rates are being quickly offset as e-cigarettes, hookah, and little cigars increase in popularity.
Shelly Kiser, ALA-Ohio’s director of advocacy, says these items are much more enticing to young people than traditional cigarettes.
“They’re cheaper, kids think they’re safer; they’re kind of novel, they’re interesting to use,” Kiser explains. “And also, they’ve been marketed in a way that’s very appealing, and they come in a variety of kid-friendly flavors. So, all of these make them very popular for kids.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use tripled among U.S. high school students between 2013 and 2014. Just over 13 percent use e-cigarettes, while 9.2 percent smoke regular cigarettes.
Ohio’s two-year budget proposal included increased taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, but the tax on other tobacco products was removed in the final version.
Kiser says comprehensive tobacco prevention strategies for youth must address all tobacco products, not just cigarettes. She thinks lawmakers missed an opportunity.
“Children are really, really price-sensitive, so one of the best things you can do to keep kids from smoking and using these products is to make them more expensive,” she says. “It could have been one of the best things they could have done to help kids stop smoking.”
Experts say exposure to nicotine during childhood can have long-term effects on brain development, and cause addiction later in life. And Kiser says policies that prevent marketing to youth could help make a difference.
“Those are things we definitely need to do, but we need to do them right now, because this is a growing problem,” she warns. “We’re seeing use rates double and triple, in the course of one to two years. So, we need action right now.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently working on rules to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of alternative tobacco products, and Ohio law prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.