Minnesota student and business leaders merit the state’s thanks for sending an unmistakable message to legislators: Vaping is a public health threat, and action is needed to stem the dangerous epidemic of e-cigarette use among young people.
Experts have been sounding the alarm for several years about teens’ fast and frightening embrace of Juul and other devices emitting a nicotine vapor. But Minnesota remains a laggard in raising the purchase age for e-cigs and traditional tobacco products from 18 to 21.
This spring, the state House passed a “Tobacco 21” bill, but the legislation died in the Senate. Sadly, the need to pass this protective measure became even clearer in subsequent weeks as serious lung damage and even deaths were linked to vaping.
Conscientious community leaders have fortunately stepped forward to try to protect kids from vaping and keep the pressure on lawmakers to act. Edina High School junior Arjun Maheshwari is one of them. He and other student leaders from Twin Cities high schools have come together to work on a bill that would add vaping education permanently to the state’s health class curriculum.
Essentia Health has launched a “Don’t Blow It” awareness campaign focusing on vaping’s risks. That message is getting amplified from a surprising source: Cambria, a Minnesota-based maker of natural countertop surfaces.
The company listened to concerned employees, many of whom are parents, and leveraged its formidable marketing talent to come up with edgy strategies to connect with teens. “Heavy metal belongs in your headphones, not your lungs,” is just one example of the smart slogans Cambria came up with. (Heavy metals can be found in e-cig vapor.)
The Cambria campaign also doesn’t mince words about misleading safety claims by e-cig manufacturers. “They lied. We know” is featured prominently on the #EscapeTheVape website. The tone is welcome and appropriate.
Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota health officials ought to take note of Cambria and Essentia’s good work. It could be leveraged to update the state’s vaping outreach efforts.
Walz and state health officials merit praise for meeting with students recently and seeking their guidance on why so many teens are vaping. The sessions have made clear that mental health may play a role in vaping use. Students who are depressed or struggle with anxiety may turn to vaping to cope, a connection that needs to be better understood as prevention and cessation measures are developed.
Nationally, 34 deaths, including three in Minnesota, have been reported among e-cig users. More than 1,600 cases of serious lung injury have been linked to vaping. While the deaths have included older e-cig users or those who vaped illicit THC, it’s eminently sensible to make it harder for teens to get their hands on the devices.
Vapor from legal e-cig products can contain heavy metals, other harmful chemicals and deliver a heavy hit of nicotine, which can harm adolescents’ still-developing brains. It’s also a concern that the devices can easily be used for street drugs. THC is the compound in marijuana that makes users feel high. Vape pods sold illegally may contain THC.
Minnesota is clearly ready for stronger vaping and tobacco protections. Lawmakers have an obligation to remedy this year’s inaction by passing sensible remedies in 2020: raising the purchase age, improving student education and enacting other nation-leading safeguards.