While fall has finally arrived, bringing football games, pumpkin spice lattes and cool weather, one thing is heating up: e-cigarettes. Youth in Wisconsin are increasingly turning to new types of tobacco and nicotine products.

Smoking rates among Wisconsin’s young population have dropped dramatically throughout the past ten years, which is something to celebrate. But more youth are turning to smokeless alternatives. Use of smokeless tobacco from 2012 to 2014 has increased 67 percent among Wisconsin’s youth. It is time to start shedding some light on this growing issue.

For many young adults, these smokeless alternatives may sound safer than traditional cigarettes, but e-cigarettes can actually be just as harmful. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which has been proven to slow brain development in adolescents. They are also composed of harsh chemicals that can eventually cause irreversible lung disease. Even more frightening, national studies have shown that smoking e-cigarettes at a young age leads to smoking traditional cigarettes as they grow older.

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Tobacco companies are not making it any easier for youth to turn away from this danger. With all of the threatening chemicals in e-cigarettes covered up by flavors like cotton candy or fruit punch, it is no wonder that adolescents don’t understand the risks they are taking when using these products. In fact, 42 percent of youths have tried e-cigarettes solely because of the flavors offered. Many of these tobacco products are also conveniently placed next to candy aisles to further persuade young people to try their product.

Thankfully, the Tobacco Free Columbia-Dane County Coalition is working hard to help our kids avoid the consequences of tobacco and nicotine addiction. Through collaborating with schools to improve and enforce tobacco-free policies, conducting compliance investigations at local convenience shops and promoting statewide advocacy, we believe we can make a difference in Wisconsin. If you’d like to help, you can learn more by visiting www.tfcdc.com. Help is also available for tobacco users through 1-800-QUIT NOW.

Amanda Ruetten ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in community and nonprofit leadership and is an intern at TFCDC.