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Vaping is on the rise among teens, Baldwin introduces bill to close federal loopholes and increase oversight

Vaping devices now come in many shapes and sizes; these were confiscated from students by a high school principal in Massachusetts in 2018.
Steven Senne
Vaping devices now come in many shapes and sizes; these were confiscated from students by a high school principal in Massachusetts in 2018.

Over the last two decades the number of teens smoking cigarettes has decline significantly, but in recent years vaping among teens has risen sharply.

According to a CDC study, E-cigarette unit sales increased by nearly 50% between January 2020 and December 2022.

A growing concern is the high number of teens under 18 that are using vape products.

A local issue

Rachael Cornelius says it’s a problem that can be seen in schools across the Northwoods. She’s the Public Health Community Educator for the Vilas County health Department.

“In talking with and working with the schools on related and unrelated issues, we've been told that vaping in schools and on school grounds is a major issue,” she said. “Youth are getting caught with vape devices or products, which do get confiscated, but unfortunately, are quickly replaced.”

Cornelius says schools are working on alternatives to suspensions program because the goal is to keep students in school. Instead, some schools are making students and parents take an online course if the student is caught with a vape device.

It educates them on addiction and the coping mechanisms potentially behind their vaping while also offering alternatives.

Cornelius believes lack of education has given a lot of people the misconception that e-cigarettes are safer than other forms of tobacco.

Health risks

Vaping comes with many of the same health risks as smoking cigarettes like nicotine addiction and increased risk for lung cancer. There are studies that show nicotine at a young age can harm parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.

In addition, taking a hit from a vaping device means you’re also taking in any chemicals in the vape juice.

“Even though smoking and vaping both involve heating a substance and inhaling it, with traditional cigarettes, you're inhaling the smoke from a burning tobacco, whereas with the vaping, that liquid heats up, turns into a vapor, you inhale it, it coats the lungs,” explained Cornelius. “Then, all of those microscopic, harmful chemicals from that vape cartridges in that liquidized vapor coats your lungs and stay there for who knows how long.”

While it’s not legal for people under the age of 21 to buy tobacco products, Cornelius says students are often easily able to get ahold of the products.

“For whatever reason, vape devices and products are just so easily accessible and readily available. Youth can get these products, obviously, from other youth, older people, siblings, you kind of name it, sometimes even parents and/or guardians,” said Cornelius. “It's not super difficult to obtain vape or vape products is what we have kind of come to find. I think a lot of it can be attributed to a lack of enforcement.”

The enforcement issue is particularly challenging in Wisconsin where the federal age to purchase tobacco products is 21, but state law still says its 18. This can make it harder to enforce among retailers.

There is also not as strong of federal oversight for vape pens and e-cigarettes as there is for other tobacco products.

Resources to Prevent Youth Vaping Act

Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and a group of bipartisan lawmakers are introducing the Resources to Prevent Youth Vaping Act.

It would close loopholes that allow e-cigarette manufacturers to avoid paying fees that other tobacco manufacturers have to pay to the FDA. Under the bill, the amount collected from e-cigarette manufacturers would be proportional to their share of the overall tobacco market, as determined by the FDA. The bill would also increase the total amount that would be collected in tobacco user fees by $100 million.

Those funds would be used to:

  • Conduct safety reviews of vaping products
  • Prevent sales of e-cigarettes to minors
  • Help support efforts to educate youth on the dangers of e-cigarettes
  • Increase the agency’s oversight and enforcement capabilities.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a troubling rise in youth vaping and it’s high time we take action to stop Big Tobacco from hooking our kids on nicotine,” said Sen. Baldwin in a statement. “Our legislation will step up oversight of the e-cigarette industry, prevent our children from using these harmful products, and help reverse the youth vaping epidemic.”

Cornelius acknowledges oversight is lacking for these products that are often directly marketed to teens and young adults.

Illicit vaping products, like over 90% of them, come from outside of the US, meaning that they aren't regulated. We have no idea what's in them. And again, they're being marketed with all these fun and tasty sounding flavors,” said Cornelius. “We're not sure what's in them, so in addition to all of the stuff that we do already know, there could be much more.”

The Resources to Prevent Youth Vaping bill is endorsed by the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Cornelius believes the bill will have a ripple effect that would eventually drop vaping levels among kids and teens.

Talk to your kids

In the meantime, if you’re concerned about your kids vaping, Cornelius recommends having consistent, small talks with them starting at a young age. Though she encourages parents and guardians to avoid fear-based tactics.

“I think if we can really give them information and allow them to critically think about their choices, and how it affects them long term, [it] is going to be way more powerful than just saying, ‘if you do this, this will happen’ with fear-based and scare tactics,” said Cornelius.

You can visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website for information on vaping, how to talk about it, and resources to quit.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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