While smoking rates have gone down amongst adults in the state of Wisconsin, vaping rates amongst teens have gone up, recent reports suggest.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state’s smoking rate has dropped five points since 2011, although it is still above the national average of 14 percent.
Vaping rates, however, tell a different story. According to WSAU, 20 percent of Wisconsin students vape, up from eight percent in 2014. Additionally, one in five has tried an electronic cigarette in their lifetime.
Lorraine Lathan, director of the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Poverty Network, said the downward trend in smoking is not a recent development.
“The cigarette smoking rate has been on a downward trend nationwide since 1964 when the U.S. Surgeon General sound the alarm by concluding that cigarettes is the cause of lung cancer in men and a probable cause of lung cancer in women,” Lathan said.
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Lathan said public policy continued to dissuade smokers. She cited the Fairness Doctrine of 1968, which required public service announcements warn viewers of health risks linked to tobacco.
Darcie Warren, senior manager of Tobacco Control at the American Lung Association in Wisconsin, added that the state of Wisconsin took steps as well.
“Wisconsin [has taken] bold action, too,” Warren said. “We went smoke-free in all workplaces, including all restaurants and bars. We increased cigarette taxes because we know many smokers, especially young smokers, are price sensitive. These strong policies encouraged people to quit smoking and kept kids from starting.”
But rates of vape usage have gone up, along with the economic value of electronic cigarettes. At the forefront of this surge in vaping is JUUL, a popular electronic cigarette company valued at $15 billion as of July 2018.
According to a press release from the CDC, JUUL’s sales of individual devices went from 2.2 million in 2016 to 16.2 million in 2017. By December 2017, JUUL had the largest electronic cigarette share in the marketplace, comprising nearly one in three electronic cigarettes sold.
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Megan Piper, associate director of research at the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, said the FDA has been cracking down on electronic cigarettes after seeing the rise in underage usage. She cited that, under pressure from the FDA, JUUL rolled back its social media presence because its advertisements were seen to appeal to youth.
She also emphasized how deeply misled many people are in thinking that electronic cigarettes are a “healthy alternative” to cigarettes.
“It wasn’t until after 40 or 50 years of many Americans smoking that the links between smoking and diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other risks were detected,” Piper said, suggesting that it is a very new trend that will require study over time.
She explained that the vapor produced by electronic cigarettes does not contain carbon monoxide or certain other harmful byproducts that are commonly found in cigarettes.
Lathan, however, added that JUUL pods are still highly addictive and contain nicotine, the key substance from cigarettes. One JUUL pod contains the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
Regardless, Piper said that electronic cigarette cartridges and the resulting vapor do appear to be less harmful, although still not healthy.
“Based on laboratory studies done in the past few years, it appears that vapor contains fewer toxic substances, and in particular, fewer carcinogens, than does tobacco smoke,” Piper said. “It is not entirely free of harmful substances, though, so it would probably be most accurate to say that based on what we know now, vaping is probably less harmful than smoking, but not harmless.”
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Warren added that regardless of whether electronic cigarettes are less harmful, they have become extremely popular among teenagers and underage children.
When it comes to vaping and its relationship to cigarette usage, however, there appears to be a consensus.
“In research conducted by UW CTRI, adults who smoked and vaped tended not to quit smoking, but to continue both smoking and vaping — creating a dual addiction,” Piper said.
She cited a 2013-14 survey conducted among ninth graders in California, which found that those who had used electronic cigarettes were almost five times more likely to have used other nicotine products, like cigarettes and hookah, in the previous six months.
When it comes to these addictions, Lathan said they unfortunately cost human lives.
“Each year in Wisconsin, 7,356 die from tobacco-related disease and illness,” Lathan said. “These are preventable deaths.”