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American Heart Association cites progress in stopping teen smoking, vaping

DES MOINES — The American Heart Association says progress has been made in stopping kids from smoking and vaping — but there is still a lot of work to do.

The Association’s Jeff Willett says there was good news on the topic. “We have seen a reduction between 2019 and 2020 with regard to the overall use of tobacco products among high school and middle school students. Reductions in the use of e-cigarettes among both high school and middle school students, and reduction of the use of combustible products like cigarettes and cigars,” Willett says.

Willett talked during an online presentation about the challenges they still face. “We need to address loopholes that big tobacco successfully exploits to continue selling their products and addicting new generations,” he says. “Today we are very concerned about flavored tobacco, we are really concerned about menthol cigarettes.”

He says flavors were banned in reusable electronic cigarettes — but there is a loophole for single-use e-cigarettes — and they have seen a one-thousand percent increase nationwide in the use of disposable e-cigarettes by high students, and a 500 percent increase in the use by middle school students. And he cited one company that is trying another approach for its e-cigarette.

“Recently Puffbar announced that it is now using synthetic nicotine. And so, it believes its products should be exempt from federal, state, and local laws regarding e-cigarettes and tobacco products. So, we have to be constantly vigilant. We have to constantly monitor what the industry is doing,” Willett says.

Willett says they believe the reduction in the use of e-cigarettes could be linked to publicity about the lung disease caused by the practice, and the federal change raising the age for using them to 21.

“What we don’t know at this point is how exactly COVID has further impacted youth vaping,” Willett says. “And we don’t know what impact a return to full-time in-person learning across the United States will have on social pressures and access to e-cigarettes.”

Willett says there has been some recent good news from the FDA. “It announced that it is going to work toward rulemaking to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars. If this happens, it would be a tremendous public health victory that would protect kids,” he says. Willet was part of an update Wednesday designed to give schools updated information on the issues surrounding tobacco and e-cigarette use.

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