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Let’s snuff out youth smoking

January 29, 2019
Nelson

By the end of 2019, Minnesota may take steps to reduce youth smoking and curb the e-cigarette epidemic among teens.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Senate announced a package of bills to help mitigate tobacco’s addictive effects and health risks.

Tobacco 21 is a bill that would raise the purchasing age of tobacco products to 21 in Minnesota. Two other bills would fund free quitting services after 2020 and curb the use of e-cigarettes in places where smoking is prohibited.

Tobacco usage is still Minnesota’s main cause of preventable death and disease, killing more than 6,300 residents each year.

And last week, the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey indicated that the state’s progress in reducing smoking had stalled.

Minnesota’s adult smoking rate is 13.8 percent, about 574,000 adult Minnesotans in total. In 2014, it was 14.4 percent. The four-year difference marks the smallest decrease since 1999. Fewer Minnesotans than ever before had made attempts to quit, and little of those successfully quit between 2014 and 2018. And e-cigarettes saw a sharp uptick in young populations and, disturbingly, those who had never smoked before.

Youth e-cigarette use rises

The MAT Survey found that while the rate of cigarette smoking fell among young adults (ages 18-24), e-cigarette use in that population nearly doubled between 2014 and 2018. Flavored e-cigarettes in particular attracted young adults. More than 96 percent of youth surveyed reported that their e-cigarettes are usually flavored.

The study also found an increase in e-cigarette use among people with no history of smoking.

“Teachers, parents, students and our schools all tell us that far too many young people are using JUUL and other highly addictive tobacco products. We cannot sit by and watch our kids develop a lifetime addiction,” said Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina), a lead author on Tobacco 21, in a press release. “Raising the tobacco age to 21 will reduce youth smoking and save lives. In the face of a youth nicotine epidemic, Tobacco 21 is the right thing to do.”

Adolescent addiction

On Thursday, Dr. Tyler Oesterle, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic, spoke to the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee about addiction during adolescence.

Addiction spikes during the teen years, he told the Minnesota Senate.

Human brains develop in stages. Emotion and motivation increase first, followed by full judgment and restraint.

This means that during the teen years, people are likely to be attracted to high-excitement, impulsive behaviors — and exposure to those behaviors also increases around that time.

While the brain is developing, alcohol and drugs like tobacco and marijuana can affect the parts responsible for planning and rewards, increasing that effect, Oesterle said. There’s also a documented IQ drop in people who use marijuana and alcohol excessively at a young age.

Sen. Carla Nelson, who helped champion the Tobacco 21 bill, said the majority of addicted smokers started before age 21.

That’s true for many drugs, Oesterle said. Good data suggests that 90 percent of smokers start before age 18, he said, which is a good argument for raising the tobacco purchasing age.

“If you don’t smoke, if you wait until you’re older, around age 21 perhaps, you have less chance of developing an addiction,” Oesterle said.

Looking forward

Mike Sheldon of Clearway Minnesota said there were good points to the MAT Survey which indicated that smoking progress had stalled, as well. Sixty percent of adults surveyed classified themselves as never-smokers.

“We’ve made good progress, but what’s coming to us is that progress has stalled a little bit,” he said.

It’s a reminder that anti-smoking laws and legislation are working against a multi-billion-dollar industry “that aggressively promotes its product, plus a literal addiction,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon hopes additionally that Minnesota will keep free addiction services available, fight tobacco’s media campaigns with anti-smoking ads, and consider raising the price of tobacco again.

In 2013, Minnesota’s price increase on tobacco products motivated many people to quit smoking, he said. But five years later, that effect has worn off.

Clearway Minnesota supports raising the smoking age to 21.

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