Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

Youth vaping spike unsettles health Minn. health officials

DULUTH—The number of Minnesota high school youth vaping e-cigarettes has risen nearly 50 percent in three years, a statistic state health officials described as alarming on Thursday, Feb. 15.

"These findings really should be a red flag for us, a worry," said state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm during a news conference to unveil results of the Minnesota Department of Health's triennial Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey. "E-cigarettes do pose a serious health concern for our youth, as nearly all of these products contain nicotine."

The e-cig use contributed to an increase, from 24.6 to 26.4 percent, of high school students who report using tobacco, the first time in 17 years the state has seen an increase, Malcolm said.

Amid the gloom, there was a flicker of good news: Youth cigarette smoking dropped below 10 percent for the first time in the history of the survey, to 9.6 percent of high school students saying they had smoked cigarettes in the previous 30 days.

But the vaping numbers, along with the overall increase, dampened any enthusiasm over that news.

"Nearly a 50 percent increase is not only surprising, it's alarming," said Pat McKone, of the American Lung Association in Duluth, in a phone interview.

Gunnar Jondal, manager of Lake Effect Vapor in Hermantown, Minn., said he doesn't want to see any juveniles using the products the store sells. But if they're choosing vaping e-cigs instead of smoking cigarettes, "that's a good tradeoff," he said in a phone interview. "I'd rather see them using this product than cigarettes."

But during the news conference, conducted in St. Paul and broadcast online via Facebook, a pediatrician warned that vaping poses danger to youth.

"The nicotine present in all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, can harm brain development as teens grow," said Dr. Pete Dehnel, medical director for the Twin Cities Medical Society. "(These) can have negative implications for adolescents' learning, memory, attention and behavior."

Ninety percent of e-cigarette products on the market contain nicotine, Malcolm said.

The survey also revealed that about one in three current e-cig users among high school students had used them to vaporize marijuana, THC, hash oil or THC wax at least once. That's concerning, too, Dehnel said, because marijuana use also can have adverse impacts on adolescent brain development.

Sagit Nachmias, a junior at Hopkins High School, said at the news conference that vaping is common in her school.

"I see classmates smoking and vaping in the parking lot at school and even in our bathrooms," Nachmias said. "We have one bathroom in particular that's been turned into a secret vaping lounge."

As a high school student, she's often around 18-year-olds, and she understands how easy it would be to obtain vaping products from them, Nachmias said.

In fact, 62 percent of the high school students under age 18 who use e-cigs said they got them from their friends, according to the survey. But 18 percent said they bought vaping products themselves at vape shops, according to the survey.

Jondal said that doesn't happen at Lake Effect Vapor. "We ID people right at the door," he said. "They're not even allowed in our shop without a state-issued ID."

McKone said the survey results further bolster the case behind the Duluth City Council's decision on Monday to limit access to menthol and other flavored tobacco products. The restriction includes e-cigarettes and flavored e-juices, she noted.

"That's a big, bold step forward for Duluth to try to reverse the data that we heard (in the survey)," McKone said.