The Vermont Legislature is tackling tobacco and e-cigarette use—through consideration of several bills aimed at youth prevention.
To make their voices heard, Vermont middle and high schoolers from the youth-led movements Our Voices Xposed and Vermont Youth Against Tobacco marched from Montpelier High School to the State House in Montpelier Tuesday.
They aimed to open eyes about the serious health risks from tobacco and nicotine, especially in newer vaping products, which are sometimes flavored like cotton candy, cookie dough, peanut butter cups, and bubble gum.
“There’s a menace underneath that,” warned Mei Elander, a high school freshman from Enosburgh who participated in the youth health advocacy day.
“It’s very harmful to the brain,” added eighth-grader Apple Maddox, who is also from Enosburgh.
The Vermont Legislature is considering several bills aimed at clamping down on kids’ access to both traditional cigarettes and to e-cigarettes, which health advocates and many lawmakers say have become alarmingly popular in Vermont schools—and too easy for kids to get.
Monday, the federal government said in a new report that teen tobacco use is skyrocketing.
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As NBC News reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found use among American high schoolers grew more than 38 percent last year from 2017. The CDC blamed e-cigarettes for single-handedly erasing progress in keeping kids away from tobacco.
Among middle school students, the increase was 28.6 percent, NBC News reported.
NBC News wrote that the CDC findings showed that in 2018, 20.8 percent of those in ninth to 12th grades said they vaped, up from 11.7 percent in 2017—a 78 percent increase.
“It is an epidemic,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden County. “It’s affecting kids at a developmental stage where it’s going to affect them for the rest of their lives.”
Proposals currently up for consideration in Montpelier would raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21, ban internet sales of e-cigarettes and liquid vape pods to Vermont, and put a hefty 92 percent tax on vaping products here.
“We just see all of these bills working together to really protect youth in a way that has not happened yet in Vermont or has not happened in a long time,” said Jennifer Costa, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
In a statement emailed to necn from the American Vaping Association, the organization’s president, Greg Conley, warned a 92 percent tax would likely shut down several small businesses in Vermont.
Conley, who argued that vaping can serve as a cessation tool for smoking, also questioned whether a ban on internet sales to Vermont would actually work. He suggested that the number of rogue sellers on auction sites and in foreign countries would make it easy for customers to skirt state laws.
Conley additionally described vaping products as being for use by adults.
Past attempts at the Vermont State House to raise the tobacco purchasing age have failed. Some opponents argued that if people are old enough for military service, they should be able to make choices about smoking or vaping.
“Eighteen–you’re legal, you’re an adult,” Rep. Tom Terenzini, R-Rutland said Tuesday of his view on the purchasing age for tobacco.
However, a new, more progressive makeup of the Vermont Legislature has public health advocates optimistic that this could be their year for the tighter restrictions.
They are also encouraged by support for that 92 percent tax on e-cigs and vape products from Vermont’s normally tax-averse Republican Governor, Phil Scott.
In his budget address last month, Scott said he wants a charge on the products that would help stop what he called a “dangerous behavior” in its tracks.
“Right here in Vermont, use among young people nearly doubled,” Gov. Scott said in his January 24 budget address. “And the Surgeon General has declared this an epidemic. After all the progress made to lower nicotine addiction, this is not only concerning—it’s frustrating.”
The young activists who marched on Montpelier Tuesday said they hope lawmakers remember their voices during their State House debates in the coming weeks.