SALT LAKE CITY — Warnings against the use of electronic cigarettes and calls for them to be regulated echoed in the Capitol rotunda Thursday morning.
Tobacco Free Education Day at the Capitol was attended by teens, legislators, advocates against tobacco, health care professionals and members of the tobacco industry. They shared statistics and stories about tobacco use, specifically related to e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are cartridges filled with a nicotine solution heated into a vapor by a battery-powered coil. They are marketed to be safer than regular cigarettes and to help smokers quit.
"The concern with electronic cigarettes is we have seen a 300 percent increase over one year in youth use of electronic cigarettes," said Dr. Kevin Nelson, pediatrician at Primary Children’s Hospital. "They’ve made them very attractive to children. They’ve made flavors. They’ve made them bright and shiny."
The likelihood of becoming addicted to tobacco after the age of 21 is less than 1 in 20, according to Nelson. The likelihood before age 19, he said, is 1 in 3.
"The biggest problem is that youth who start to use tobacco use it for the rest of their lives," Nelson said. "And 480,000 people die each year because of tobacco use."
Teens from tobacco-free youth coalitions called for regulation of e-cigarettes and for the tobacco purchase age to be raised to 21.
"I have an uncle. He's 55 years old and he started smoking when he was 12, and he still smokes to this day," said Kira Hannemann, 17, Miss Northern Utah County and representing Island Teens Against Tobacco. "You can see the difference between my dad, who has never smoked, and him, who's 5-foot-7, less than 100 pounds. I don't want that to happen to anyone else."
Hannemann said she sees her peers smoking e-cigarettes and being a target of tobacco companies.
Tad Jensen, store manager of ElectronicStix in Murray, said he opposes raising the age to purchase tobacco products in Utah from 19 to 21.
"Personally, I think that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that you can choose to pick up and gun and go serve in the Army but you’re not going to be allowed the choice of whether you’re going to use a nicotine-based product or not," he said.
Jensen insisted that e-cigarettes aren't marketed toward youths. At his store, employees check the ID of every customer to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
"We’re in business to help people quit smoking," he said. "I get a decent amount of 19- and 20-year-olds that are coming in looking for an alternative to smoking."
Very few customers are nonsmokers when they come in, Jensen said.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, spoke Thursday about HB112, a bill he introduced Thursday that calls for regulation of electronic cigarettes to better restrict access to them by people under 19.
Literal evidence of the increase in youths using e-cigarettes was presented by Roy Junior High School resource officer Broc Gresham.
Gresham brought with him a bag of 15 to 20 e-cigarettes he has seized during the school year. There was only one pack of regular cigarettes.
"This is a small percentage of what’s in the school," he said. "I’m good at my job, but kids are sneaky. It's triple what I had last year."
Gresham added that he has 15 to 20 more e-cigarettes still in evidence, which he said teens typically get from a family member who leaves one lying around.
Ray said he's looking to ban Internet sales of e-cigarettes, keep companies from marketing them as a cessation product, and regulate their manufacturing and sale.
"Right now there’s no quality control," he said. "You don’t how much nicotine is actually getting in a cartridge. They’ll be made in people’s garages and basements and kitchens, and then be sold retail without any kind of department inspections or anything."
The Food and Drug Administration hasn't concluded yet whether e-cigarettes are tobacco products. However, Ray read from a digital vapor cigarette label, “VUSE is a tobacco product because the nicotine used in this product is extracted from the tobacco plant."
"I’ve learned a lot about e-cigarettes and how bad they are for you," said Justice Albertson, 15, an Orem High School student. "And it also has made me more aware of people that are using them in my community and how it affects them."
Justice's mother, Raven Albertson, added that his grandfather started using e-cigarettes in 2009 to quit smoking but still hasn't.
"And here we are five years later," said Albertson, who works for the Utah County Health Department in the tobacco prevention and control program.
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