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As more Minnesota kids vape and smoke, health department issues advisory on dangers

Many e-cigarettes and other tobacco-related products come in cherry and other fruity flavors that are targeted toward the younger generation. Lowell Anderson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Tobacco use among Minnesota high school students increased for the first time in 17 years and state health officials attribute the rise to the popularity of e-cigarettes.

The Minnesota Department of Health has now issued a health advisory regarding the latest evidence that early nicotine use increases the risks of addiction for youth now and later in life.

In 2017, Minnesota high-school tobacco use spiked to 26 percent with e-cigarette use by those in that age range increasing by 50 percent in the last three years, the health department said in a Wednesday, Sept. 12, news release.

The health department said 19 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes.

"Given the alarming spike in e-cigarette use among Minnesota youth, we need a full-court press to prevent another generation from getting hooked on nicotine," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm in the release. "We need to do everything we can to address this escalating risk of addiction for youth, but we can't do this alone. This work requires the participation of parents, educators, health care providers, retailers and policy makers."

Nearly all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, and research shows that young adults who smoke or who use e-cigarettes are much more likely to binge drink than nonsmokers, the health department said. Recent studies have identified similar patterns between use of nicotine and use of other drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines.

Multiple studies have showed e-cig users are twice as likely to become cigarette smokers, the health department said.

"Far too many teens are being introduced at an early age to e-cigarettes," said Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in the release. "Nicotine negatively impacts learning, memory, and attention. As students start their new school year, I encourage educators, parents, and health care providers to come together and raise awareness about the dangers of e-cigarettes on our youth, so we can quickly address these troubling trends and put a full-stop to them."

State health department officials continue to be worried about JUUL, a device that looks like a flash drive, which they say dominates more than 70 percent of the e-cigarette market. JUUL pods, which can be bought in fruit or candy flavors, contain the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

All tobacco use, including e-cigarette use and vaping, are prohibited by state law in public schools. It is also illegal for retail merchants to sell e-cigarette products to youth under age 18.

In April, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education sent a joint letter and toolkit to school districts across the state, warning them of the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping products and providing them with resources for addressing the issue in schools.

Forum News Service

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