Fewer Wisconsin Teens Smoke Now; E-Cigs and Others Rise

WISCONSINREPORT.COM (11/20/2014) [HEALTH] – On the 39th anniversary of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, new data has been released showing a record low percentage of Wisconsin teens are smoking. That celebratory data, however, was tempered by new figures showing a surge in use of other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes.

According to the Wisconsin Youth Tobacco Survey, 10.7 percent of Wisconsin high school students smoke cigarettes, down from 13.1 percent in 2012 and below the current national average of 12.7 percent. Yet, the rate of Wisconsin high school students using smokeless tobacco products like snuff and snus jumped from roughly six percent to nearly ten percent. Among high school males, the percentage of smokeless tobacco users skyrocketed from 10 percent to over 17 percent.

“This data is both reassuring and alarming,” said Sara Sahli, Wisconsin government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “First it proves a comprehensive tobacco prevention and control program combined with an effective cigarette tax and smoke-free air has worked to cut Wisconsin’s teen smoking rate. Yet because of this success the tobacco industry has shifted to marketing smokeless products to teens and young adults which is clearly working. Smokeless and other tobacco products are taxed less than cigarettes making them more appealing and more affordable to cash strapped teens.”

One obvious tax loophole, says Chris Klein, Wisconsin government relations director for the American Heart Association, involves so-called “little cigars”. These cigars are just cigarettes wrapped in brown paper, yet the per-pack tax can be as low as 65 cents.

“The state Legislature could help reverse this trend by making sure all tobacco products, including little cigars, are taxed at the same rate as cigarettes—$2.52 per-pack” said Klein. “There is strong scientific evidence that high tobacco taxes are one of the most effective means to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids.”

Also included in the survey, is first ever data on teen use of electronic cigarettes. The survey found around eight percent of Wisconsin high school students use electronic cigarettes, 75 percent higher than the national average.

The full health effects of electronic cigarettes remain unclear, but the Surgeon General has found that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive and can damage developing teenage brains.

“The tobacco industry is aggressively marketing e-cigarettes to teens and young adults,” said Dona Wininsky, Wisconsin government relations director for the American Lung Association. “Bubble gum, candy apple and cotton candy are just some of the kid-friendly e-cigarette flavors. Obviously these products are being pushed on kids and are not just another way for adults to quit smoking,” said Wininsky, “The FDA needs to hurry up and take action to regulate e-cigarettes before it’s too late.”

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed regulating electronic cigarettes like other tobacco products, but has yet to issue a final rule.

The Wisconsin Youth Tobacco Survey was released by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and is a school-based survey of students in grades 9-12 conducted every other year since 2000. Fifty randomly selected schools received the survey and a total of 1,236 students completed the survey. The survey is funded by the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, part of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The American Cancer Society launched the Great American Smokeout nearly 40 years ago as a platform to encourage smokers to quit. Since then, the program has expanded to not only encourage smokers to make a plan to quit, but also to encourage all Americans to advocate for comprehensive smoke-free laws, increased tobacco excise taxes and increased funding for tobacco cessation programs.

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