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Concerning nicotine statistics cause legislators, administrators to revise policies

Increased use of e-cigarette devices by students of all ages lead to a rise in efforts to limit access inside classrooms and across the states to address associated health hazards.

Increased use of e-cigarette devices by students of all ages lead to a rise in efforts to limit access inside classrooms and across the states to address associated health hazards.

Image By: Will Cioci

In Wisconsin, rates of e-cigarette use have increased from 1.9 percent in 2012 to 20.1 percent in 2018, according to Marshfield Clinic Health System, resulting in new smoking policies to address the rising public concern.

Following a consistent decline of cigarette use among UW-Madison students, a third-generation vaping trend has taken its place and surpassed previous smoking statistics. Current laws regarding smoking indoors have been re-evaluated in order to fit the recent increase of e-cigarette use.

Director of Clinical Services for UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention Doug Jorenby discussed the center’s previous research in preventing cigarette and tobacco use among students compared to trends in current smoking methods. 

“We got started at the end of the '80s early '90s trying to find evidence-based ways to help people quit smoking cigarettes, and that's really been our focus all along,” Jorenby said. “But unfortunately a number of years ago, e-cigarettes came out of nowhere, and the tobacco control community pretty much got blindsided.”

The use of e-cigarettes among young students is highlighted by a finding from Darcie Warren, coalition coordinator for the American Lung Association, who recorded an increase of 272 percent for middle schoolers and 154 percent for high schoolers between 2014 and 2018.

Dr. Jorenby and his colleagues found an increase in smoking among students in both middle and high school, pointing to the wide range of consumers the new devices have attracted.

“With younger people, we saw this complete reversal, whereas over the last several years there has been really consistent year-over-year declines in smoking rates for high school students. But then out of nowhere, e-cigarette use came up and surpassed that,” Jorenby explained.

Dr. Steven Kulick, Chief Experience Officer at Marshfield Clinic Health System, argued the excessive use of e-cigarettes among adolescents can be attributed to the marketing done by these companies through flavors of e-cigarette juice.

“We can see that these products are very cynically marketed towards kids, and that’s why it’s really important that we get in front of this problem and encourage kids not to get started,” Kulick said.

The accessibility of e-cigarettes among young students is reflected in Dr. Kulick’s research, stating that 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students smoke e-cigarettes, even though they are under the legal age. 

“We did a pretty good job over the past couple decades reducing tobacco use among young people, and all of those gains have essentially been eliminated ever since e-cigarettes came on the market,” Kulick said.

Administrators and school staff recently responded to the increased use of e-cigarettes among their students by educating parents about the risks of vaping.

Assistant Principal at Edgewood High School Shannah McDonough believes changing the behavior of students is a responsibility of both parents and teachers.

“This problem is all of our problems ... they’re vaping or JUULing in a bathroom where we don’t have cameras or a supervisor there at all times, they’re doing it at home too,” McDonough said.

McDonough also spoke on the school’s updated rules about smoking in response to the increasing trend of vaping, which has caused them to add new school policies surrounding vaping, JUULing and other inhalant devices. 

Rules at the high school include an athletic code requiring students to take drug and alcohol tests if they are caught using a tobacco product in school, encouraging students to refrain from using e-cigarettes.

She attributes the cause of increased nicotine use to the pressures students face to be competitive for their college applications.  

“Why are they running to this as an option?” McDonough asked. “I think it has to do with society’s overbearing expectations of all As and 55 AP classes.”

With the the increasing trend of third-generation smoking technology, Wisconsin laws have been re-evaluated in order to fit current smoking habits.

In 2019, a new bill was proposed to amend the previous smoke-free laws created in 2009, which prohibited smoking tobacco products indoors. With the recent uprise of e-cigarette use, the bill redefines "smoking" in order to tackle this issue.

Stated in the legislation, “the bill specifies that ‘smoking’ includes inhaling or exhaling vapor from a ‘vapor product’ which the bill defines as any noncombustible product that employs a heating element, power source, electronic circuit, or other electronic, chemical, or mechanical means that can be used to produce vapor from a solution or other substance.”

UW-Madison has responded to the prevalence of nicotine use on campus through organizations such as Spark, encouraging students and parents to advocate for a tobacco-free campus.

Spark’s website mission statement said, “we hope to inform student, faculty, and staff of the dangers of smoking and tobacco usage and ultimately use advocacy to implement a tobacco-free policy at UW-Madison.”

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