Tuesday, February 2, 2021

E-cigarette use has risen in pandemic, Kentucky youth say in survey seeking their views of safety and policy issues of 'vaping'

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

More than one in three Kentucky young people in a recent survey said electronic cigarette use had increased among youth during the pandemic, and 14 percent said e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes.  They also overwhelming supported local tobacco control policies. 

"The perspectives of these Kentucky pre-teens and teens show us that we, as a society, still have much work to do to help protect our youth from e-cigarettes and other tobacco products that can cause them so much harm, both immediately and throughout the rest of their lives," Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said in a news release. 

The foundation and Kentucky Youth Advocates conducted the survey in November and December, among 400 middle- and high-school youth in 22 counties across the state.

According to the American Lung Association, 8,000 teens a day start using e-cigarettes. In Kentucky, 26.1% of high-school students and 17.3% of middle-school students use the devices, the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found.

In the more recent survey, 34% of youth said the pandemic has increased student use of e-cigarettes or "vapes" and other tobacco products; 11% said e-cigarette use had stayed about the same; 16% said it had decreased; and 39% weren't sure either way. 

"Public health measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 may have increased parental oversight and reduced vaping for some youth, but certainly not for all," said Chandler. "The children of essential workers who haven't been able to stay home may well be the youth for whom vaping increased."

The survey also asked about the safety of e-cigarettes compared with traditional cigarettes and found that 14% of youth believed e-cigarettes are safer; 61% said they were as safe as cigarettes; and 25% said they were less safe than cigarettes. 

"Vaping products are misleading our youth to think they offer a safer alternative," said Dr. Laura Hancock Jones, a dentist in Union County. "We must continue work in the area of tobacco cessation and prevention to improve not just oral health but overall health," 

The survey also found that 70% of youth support giving cities and counties the power to pass local ordinances that will help youth be healthier now and in the future; 5% did not support giving local cities and counties this option, and 24% said they needed more information. 

KYA Executive Director Terry Brooks, spoke to the importance of youth advocates in the effort to improve the health of Kentucky's communities. 

"These survey results give youth new data to share with local elected officials and urge leaders in cities and counties across the commonwealth to more quickly and effectively act on efforts to curb youth vaping," he said.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, and Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill have filed Senate Bill 81 and House Bill1 47 to let cities and counties regulate marketing and sale of tobacco products, a power the legislature took from them in 1996. Both the foundation and KYA support the legislation.

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