Commentary

Vaping is on the rise among Nebraska teens. We can reverse this trend.

March 21, 2023 3:00 am

(Getty Images)

Nebraska has seen an alarming increase in the number of young people who use e-cigarettes.

From 2015 to 2021, rates of e-cigarette use by high school-aged people rose from 9% to 14%, and those who have tried an e-cigarette for the first time increased from 19% to 30%, according to the Nebraska Youth Tobacco Survey.

We at the Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition (MOTAC) know it’s possible to reverse these harmful trends through targeted young prevention programs — but these programs need more funding to make a statewide impact.

The Nebraska Legislature is currently considering legislation that would direct nearly $1.1 million over each of the next two fiscal years to the statewide Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, which in turn would provide more funding to prevention programs for youth.

Those dollars are the result of a recent $438.5 million settlement between JUUL Labs and 33 states and territories, resolving a two-year bipartisan investigation into the e-cigarette manufacturers’ marketing and sales practices.

The investigation determined that Juul rose to its dominant market position by willfully targeting young people, relentlessly marketing to underage users with launch parties, young models in advertisements, and social media posts, according to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.

The effect of these advertising tactics is clear: Last year, more than 2.5 million U.S. middle and high school students reported using an e-cigarette in the previous 30 days — including 14.1% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students, according to a study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Concerningly, parents and guardians are less likely to know that their children use e-cigarettes. A 2020 study in the journal Pediatrics found that only 40% of parents and guardians reported knowing or suspecting that their child used an e-cigarette compared to 70% for caregivers of children who smoke combustible cigarettes.

Numerous studies have shown these products are harming young people. Vape devices and e-cigarettes contain nicotine and many other chemicals that impair the development of the adolescent brain. Vaping is also addictive and more likely to cause someone to start smoking cigarettes.

MOTAC leads Douglas County in addressing tobacco-related issues through public policy, education and community action. We and other organizations across the state have made tremendous progress in Nebraska on reducing youth tobacco use: In 2000, 62% of high school students had ever used cigarettes; in 2019, that number was 17%, according to the Nebraska Youth Tobacco Survey.

Based on past successes in reducing youth tobacco use, we know the following strategies are effective: Reduce the perception among young people that vaping is normal; make it more difficult and more expensive for young people to obtain vaping products; establish supports and resources to help young people quit using e-cigarettes; and strengthen protective factors in the lives of young people, making them less likely to use any substances.

Youth vaping prevention funding would provide additional education and resources to help parents, teachers, school administrators and the wider community address this urgent problem. Ultimately, a concentrated prevention effort will help counter the industry’s marketing efforts aimed at teens and reduce the chances of our young people becoming addicted to nicotine.

A hearing on the bill to direct funds to the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program has been scheduled for March 24.

It’s never too late to quit smoking. People who are interested in quitting can access resources at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ I Want To Quit Tobacco web page, including the free Nebraska Tobacco Quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), or the web-based QuitNow program (quitnow.ne.gov). Learn more about our work at MOTAC.org.

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Molly Rezic
Molly Rezic

Molly Rezich is the MOTAC health educator at Creighton University's School of Medicine and a Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition member.

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