In August when the Montana Department of Health and Human Services was forced to withdraw their proposed rule restricting flavored e-cigarette/vape products we were disappointed but we aren't giving up on our efforts to protect Montana kids from a lifetime of addiction. Recently we submitted an op-ed to a number of papers around the state and it was recently published in the Billings Gazette. This is part of our effort to raise awareness on the issue as we continue to prepare for the 2021 legislative session.
Guest opinion: Pause of state flavored vape rule endangers Montana Kids
Cathy White, Lauren Wilson, Amanda Cahill and Willow Peterson
We know that flavored vape and tobacco hook kids.
That is why as advocates for Montana’s kids and public health in general, we’re disappointed that politics in the Montana Legislature has led the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPPHS) to pause its rule to restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarette products in our state.
In pausing the rule, DPPHS said that “more education and collaboration” is needed in the Montana Legislature before the rule moves forward. The decision by the department to delay the rule is in response to an objection filed by 20 legislators, who argued that DPHHS doesn’t have the authority to implement it.
hero_image_alt_text===A table with a variety of vape devices confiscated from high school students
thumbnail_alt_text===A table with a variety of vape devices confiscated from high school students
The truth is, though, that DPHHS does have the authority to implement health protections in time of “public need.” And if ever there was a time of need, it’s now. Montana youth are using e-cigarettes at an epidemic rate. According to the Youth Behavioral Survey, the percentage of Montana high school students using e-cigarettes frequently increased by 243 percent from 2017 to 2019.
This is very much a youth problem, too. Kids use e-cigarettes more than adults here in Montana: 30 percent of youth compared to just 5 percent of adults. These rates of youth use may continue to rise unless we take immediate action to restrict flavored products. The risks to our kids’ health may also continue to increase. It’s important to know that nearly 100 percent of e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which harms adolescent brain development and primes the brain for lifelong addiction to nicotine.
And candy flavors are how Big Tobacco gets kids hooked.
The American Journal of Public Health in June said flavors are a primary reason why youth use e-cigarettes, and that most youth e-cigarette users start with flavored products. Of youth e-cigarette users, 70 percent report using flavored products. That is the tobacco industry’s proven strategy - it is called the graduation strategy, and kids are “starters.” It is used time and time again.
However, when flavors are restricted, youth use declines. A study published this July in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows that the 2009 ban on flavored conventional cigarettes contributed to a 43 percent reduction in youth smoking.
In addition to the harms of nicotine and addiction, new evidence shows that e-cigarette use also greatly increases youth risk for COVID-19. A study published this month in the Journal of Adolescent Health, shows that youth who vape are five to seven times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than those who don’t use e-cigarettes.
“Teens and young adults need to know that if you use e-cigarettes, you are likely at immediate risk of COVID-19 because you are damaging your lungs,” the study’s author said.
The epidemic use of these dangerous products during a time of pandemic is clearly a “time of public need.”
As advocates, we will continue our work to educate the public and politicians about the dangers of flavored e-cigarette and tobacco products. And we will push for additional health protections at the state and community levels.
Montanans who value public health and the well-being of our children must stand up to an industry that targets our children with dangerous, addictive products with ploys like candy flavors. Let’s work together to dismantle the flavor trap in our communities.