Life in Balance: 'Tobacco epidemic' targets new generation

The American Lung Association attributes the popularity of e-cigarettes with helping to create another generation of smokers.

BOISE - One of the goals of our Life in Balance series is to help inform you about trending issues so we can all make better decisions when it comes to the health and well-being of our community.

This week we're talking about tobacco use, which is still the number one cause of early death and preventable disease in our country. In Idaho, 1,800 adults die each year as a result of smoking.

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"The tobacco epidemic is not something that is gone," said Heather Kimmel, Executive Director of American Lung Association Idaho.

Kids themselves have admitted to using it.

Every year, every Idaho high school student takes the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Education. Their answers from 2015 are startling: 25 percent of Idaho high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days.

"This is far higher than we anticipated seeing," Kimmel said. "We're talking one in four high school students using tobacco products."

Thirty percent of Idaho high school students said they use some form of tobacco products.

Whether it is traditional cigarettes, chewing tobacco, dissolvable tobacco, in addition to e-cigarettes," Kimmel said. "So what that tells us is that a lot of students are using multiple products."

Kimmel says the popularity of e-cigarettes is helping to create another generation of smokers, partly because they come in over 7,700 flavors.

"And a lot of these 7,700 flavors are fruit flavors, dessert flavors, candy flavors, coffee flavors. Things that all sound pretty good to most people. So it doesn't have that stinky, smelly, traditional burn in your lungs."

Or the traditional smell of cigarette smoke, making e-cigarette use harder to detect for parents.

"You don't walk past and people don't think, 'Oh, you smell terrible' after you've been using an e-cigarette," Kimmel said.

The American Lung Association is pushing for a change.

Five states, including Oregon, have raised the legal sale age of tobacco products from 18 years old to 21. Efforts to pass the Tobacco 21 law in Idaho failed during the last legislative session.

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"One of the greatest benefits of raising the legal sale age from 18 to 21 is that you remove the access pipeline from high schools to a large degree," Kimmel said. "Most of the 15, 16, 17 year old smokers are getting tobacco products from their 18 year old peers that they're seeing everyday, including their older brothers and sisters."

The American Lung Association has a number of programs in Idaho, targeting youth tobacco prevention and cessation. But the tobacco industry is mighty hard to compete with.

"Right now in the State of Idaho, the tobacco industry spends $44.8 million dollars a year marketing tobacco products," Kimmel said. "So this marketing is incredibly prevalent and there are a number of research studies that show that youth actually retain these marketing images far more longer and far more regularly than adults do."

If you or someone you know is trying to quit tobacco, check out the following links:

Project Filter

American Lung Association

Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare