Award winners for Tobacco Education and Advocacy of the Midlands pose for a photo Thursday at CHI Health Midlands after TEAM’s annual award luncheon.

Vaping may be skyrocketing among teenagers, but society has the tools to bring it under control.

That’s what Dr. Brian King, a deputy director for research translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the crowd gathered at CHI Health Midlands in Papillion Thursday for Tobacco Education and Advocacy of the Midlands’ annual recognition luncheon.

King spoke after TEAM gave out its annual awards to organizations and communities for their work in tobacco prevention and education, focusing his keynote address on vaping and e-cigarettes.

Vaping and e-cigarette use has increased dramatically in recent years, with 21 percent of high school students using in 2018, according to the CDC. Use has grown so much that the U.S. surgeon general called vaping an “epidemic.”

King said e-cigarettes like Juuls, which make up 75 percent of the market share, are the fourth generation of cigarettes and they and other products are evolving.

He also compared the industry’s strategy of advertising flavored products and high nicotine content as getting a horse to drink water; the advertising leads users, especially teenagers, to the products; the different flavors get them to use the products; and the nicotine keeps them coming back for more.

King said there is some research that nicotine use carries risks to adolescent brains, and nicotine salts, which are used in e-cigarettes, make it easier to consume high levels of nicotine. He also said the research is inconclusive about whether or not e-cigarettes are an effective way to help adults quit smoking.

The way to stop the rise in vaping among teenagers, King said, is to modernize the same strategies used to curb the use of traditional cigarettes like youth prevention programs, local ordinances outlawing the use of tobacco products indoors or in parks and, most effectively, raising the price of products through taxes.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said, “we just need to grease the squeaky wheel.”

Autumn Sky Burns, TEAM community outreach coordinator for Sarpy County, said it was exciting to see those in attendance agree vaping is a problem even though the general public may not. She said the appealing marketing of the products has re-captured the attention of youth and e-cigarette usage competes with other youth health initiatives like bullying, suicide and depression and drug overdoses for the public’s attention.

“Tobacco has been around so long that people think it’s not that big of a deal — we’ve kind of trampled that giant,” she said. “What I’m seeing is that this giant is getting back up on its feet.”

Burns was also concerned about the potential effect on teenagers’ brains.

The next step to take on the local level, Burns said, is to institute tobacco-free park and playground policies. Springfield is the only Sarpy County city that has regulations prohibiting tobacco in parks, which is why the city was named TEAM’s community of the year.

“It should be a common sense thing,” Burns said. “These are tax-funded spaces for health and we definitely just learned that tobacco products are not compatible with healthy living.”

TEAM’s other honorees were:

  • Advocate of the Year: Gary Wokenfuss, Weeping Water Middle School/High School principal.
  • Business of the Year: CHI Health.
  • Outdoor Recreation Facility: Village of Eagle.
  • Parter of the Year: Emily Sarcone, CHI Health cancer center outreach coordinator.
  • World No Tobacco Day “Bag the Butts”: Cheeky Monkey; Partridge Family.

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