A whopping one in four 11th graders reported smoking an e-cig within the past month, a 54 percent increase from 2016, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The jump in eighth graders was even more alarming, from 5.7 percent in 2016 to 11 percent last year.
Most alarming, most teens seemed to think this wasn’t a big deal. More than three-quarters of 11th graders said the risks of smoking e-cigs were “slight” or “moderate,” if there were risks at all.
Meanwhile, as of February 4, some 2,758 people in this country had been hospitalized with lung injuries associated with smoking e-cigs or vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the end of last year, Minnesota alone had seen about 141 “confirmed or probable” cases, and three deaths.
Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what vaping does to our bodies. Meanwhile, Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) wants the teens to know the score. She’s introducing two bills this session: one to require schools to adopt an “evidence-based vaping prevention curriculum” to be taught at least once to middle-schoolers, and one to set aside $250,000 for vaping prevention program grants.
Last session, Edelson authored a bill to raise the purchasing age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. (A similar measure was recently passed at the federal level.) But true change can’t just come from the top down, she says. In order to stop teens from vaping, you’ve got to give them the facts.
“Kids are not dumb,” she says. Once they realize that the vaping industry is “targeting” them and stands to make a “great deal of money” off their becoming addicted, she thinks they’ll be less likely to go for e-cigs.
“A young person does not want to be punked,” Edelson says.
Several high school students who testified on behalf of the bills last week said they and their classmates could use more information.
“Quite frankly, students know that [vaping] is bad for them, but to what extent, they have no idea,” Minnetonka High School senior Andrew Thompson said. “The funny thing is, students who are vaping would never touch a cigarette… I don’t think they ever would want to, because they know it had a detrimental effect on the generation before them.”
Edelson says she doesn’t anticipate a lot of pushback. The bill has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, was just passed in the House’s education policy committee, and is due for a first Senate hearing in the coming weeks.
On a related note, her colleague, Rep. Rena Moran (D-St. Paul) is sponsoring a bill designed to protect kids from the effects of smoking. HF3072 would prohibit smoking in a car or a bus if a person under the age of 18 is present.