Senator Harris: Advocating for Healthy Youth

By Nikiya Harris

Nikiya Harris

Nikiya Harris

As an elected official, my first priority has always been on the health and safety of Wisconsin residents.

This past session, I worked diligently to introduce legislation to deter smoking among teenagers.

Teenagers, especially those in my district, are increasingly susceptible to beginning smoking at a very young age.

Many teens particularly, are beginning to participate in a popular new trend known as “vaping.” Vaping refers to inhaling the vapors from electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, a battery-powered device that delivers a dose of nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals.

Vaping started as an alternative to smoking, particularly among individuals who wanted to quit smoking and bought into the idea that e-cigarettes provided a ‘safe’ way to quit.

However, studies show that e-cigarettes are not scientifically proven to be an effective tool to discourage cigarette smoking. Instead, those individuals that do want to quit should turn to organizations such as the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN), which educates smokers about the dangers of smoking and provides information about smoking cessation programs.

Individuals could call 1-800-QUIT NOW, which provides free help or ask the WAATPN for recommendations on FDA-approved medications from the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line.

While e-cigarettes started as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, over the years, because of the trendy designs, packaging and flavors, they have become increasingly popular among teens.

In fact, when you consider the purchase of the electronic cigarettes and the accessories that accompany them, e-cigarettes are now part of an estimated $2 billion industry.

Many individuals who engage in vaping believe that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.

However, while health officials agree that e-cigarettes do not have the 4,800 toxins that cigarettes do, the health hazards of e-cigarettes are unclear and remain under scrutiny.

A 2009 study by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) showed the presence of several unpleasant ingredients in the vapors of e-cigarettes, but to date, the agency has not brought them under the same oversight as other tobacco products.

Of concern to me and other legislators—particularly in light of this month’s observance of National Minority Health Month— is that the sweet flavoring and aggressive marketing of e-cigarettes is enticing another generation of smokers—our teens—to become addicted to the properties of nicotine which are delivered by e-cigarettes.

According to a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publication, in the last two years, the use of e-cigarettes among young people has rapidly grown.

In addition, the U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that nicotine can be as difficult to quit as heroin or cocaine.

Armed with this information, the lack of data regarding the long-term impact of e-cigarettes, and ongoing research, e-cigarettes are a public health concern that needs to be proactively addressed.

Nine states and 108 municipalities—including Chicago—already ban e-cigarette use where tobacco is banned.

It’s time for Wisconsin to jump on this bandwagon and work to ensure that ecigarettes do not become a “gateway” for our youth to become lifelong nicotine addicts.