On Sept. 11, members of the Mineral County Healthy Communities Coalition met in Alberton and discussed several issues facing county residents. One of those issues reported by Barb Jasper is the increased use of e-cigarettes by young people.
Jasper works for the Mineral County Health Department as the Public Health Nurse and for the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program ,and rshe eported that 24 percent of Mineral County high school students have used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. This is compare to 22.5 percent in Montana and 11.7 percent nationally.
With tobacco companies spending $31.1 million in Montana advertising per year, Jasper said published research studies have found that kids are twice as sensitive to tobacco advertising as adults. They are also more likely to be influenced to smoke by cigarette marketing than by peer pressure.
“One-third of underage experimentation with smoking is attributable to tobacco company advertising,” she said. “I often get people saying, ‘well they must be better than cigarettes’ and this may be true but the problem is that they are still addictive.”
She added that no long-term studies exist to relay what the health effects may be. “We know what nicotine does but what about all the chemicals and flavorings being inhaled?” she said.
ANOTHER problem is that tobacco companies say e-cigarettes are for adults who want to quit smoking, yet they aggressively market flavored vape to kids.
“The data supports that adults who use, typically use it in areas where they can’t use traditional cigarettes, which leads to dual use. But it is kids who are the new users,” Jasper said.
To help combat the issue, the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program is developing a new billboard targeting youth cigarette use. The billboard will go up as soon as a good visibility board frees up in Mineral County. In the meantime, Jasper wants members of the coalition to talk to area youth about the dangers of tobacco use and encourage others to talk about the danger of addiction and exposure to dangerous chemicals.
“Talk to your friends and so they will talk to their kids,” she said.
She is also preparing packets on services like the QUIT Line, which will be distributed to local healthcare providers and is looking for local advocates to help spread the word about it. Another issue Jasper mentioned was the upcoming legislation related to tobacco, Initiative 185. It would raise taxes on all tobacco products, and amends the definition of tobacco to include e-cigarettes and vaping products.
I-185 will increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $2 for a total tax of $3.70 per pack. This tax hike is expected to raise $74 million a year by 2023, and the initiative dedicates $26 million of that money to pay for Montana’s Medicaid expansion program — which is slated to end in 2019 without legislative action.
However, I-185 is being heavily contested by Montanans Against Tax Hikes, encouraging voters not to pass the bill — claiming the tax increase will not cover the state’s rising cost of Medicaid expansion, leaving the taxpayers to plug a huge shortfall. Montanans Against Tax Hikes is funded almost entirely by the lobbying arm of the makers of Camel and Marlboro cigarettes, according to a report by the Associated Press.