Several state lawmakers heard from students and health experts about the extensive popularity of vaping products among Mid-Missouri minors and adults at a forum Tuesday.
Reps. Kip Kendrick, Martha Stevens, Chuck Basye, Cheri Toalsen-Reisch and Sen. Caleb Rowden attended the Youth Community Coalition Legislative Forum at First Presbyterian Church.
One Hallsville High School junior, Lydia Stephens, pleaded with the lawmakers to not let another generation become addicted to nicotine.
“Not only is vaping an addiction, it’s a blind addiction,” she said. “Teens are puffing chemicals because they taste like mint and mangos and have no interest in learning the consequences. It’s completely senseless.”
Rohan Roe, a Rock Bridge High School sophomore, told the crowd of state and city leaders that the growing health issue is not often fully understood by his peers.
“We have a joke in our physics class: If you walk into a bathroom and it smells nice, then someone’s been vaping in there… I’ve walked into multiple bathrooms and smelled cookies and cream,” Roe said. “A lot of people just don’t realize just how bad this stuff is for you.”
Gracie Shultz, a senior at Centralia High School, echoed the idea that students are using e-cigarettes covertly in bathrooms and even during class. “All they have to do is put it in their sleeves and act like they’re coughing,” she said.
Dr. Kevin Everett spoke prior to the students and outlined a number of policies that, he says, could help curb the rate of minors using vaping products.
“Missouri is behind the curve in terms of state level best practice policies. We have the lowest tobacco tax in the nation,” Everett said. He added that an age requirement of 18 instead of 21 allows the devices to become popular among high school students, and that other states have already banned flavored vaping products that entice young people.
Everett said the elusive, even “predatory” advertisement campaigns used by vaping companies like Juul encourage young people to buy the products. “(The companies have) made things look very glamorous,” he said.
Vaping-related illnesses and deaths have led to health officials locally and across the country calling on young people to quit using the devices.
Last month, the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, in partnership with Columbia Public Schools, launched an anti-vaping campaign targeting youth. A death related to electronic cigarette use was also reported for the first time in Missouri. At least 22 other illnesses possibly connected to vaping have been reported in the state, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Missouri currently has the lowest tax rate on cigarettes sales in the country, at 17 cents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Across the country, health officials have reported at least 12 deaths and more than 800 individual cases possibly related to e-cigarettes. All the victims have prior histories of vaping, but, “no single product or substance has been linked to all lung injury cases,” according to the CDC.
On Tuesday, health officials in New Jersey and Virginia each announced deaths possibly related to vaping. The announcements reportedly bring the total number of deaths in the outbreak to 16.