By STEVE FREKER
MALDEN — E-cigarette use, or, “vaping” among young people has reached “epidemic proportions,” increasing more than five-fold in just the last three years and steps must be taken to stem the tide, says Malden state Sen. Jason Lewis.
Lewis is the sponsor of the Senate version of legislation that would take a dramatic step statewide in raising the legal age to purchase all tobacco products from 18 to 21.
His legislation, titled, An Act to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction, would also make it clear that e-cigarettes are tobacco products and also proposes banning e-cigarette use, or, “vaping” from schools and all other places where smoking is not permitted. Most beginner smokers in their early to mid-teens get started by getting cigarettes and other nicotine products from friends or relatives who can legally purchase them — 18- or 19-year-olds still in high school or just out.
Lewis, like most every advocate of raising the tobacco product purchase age, stresses that tobacco should be “completely out of the high school setting” if the goal is to stop the younger students to even begin the habit of smoking conventional or e-cigarettes.
The biggest problem, Lewis said, as Malden, Melrose, and most communities in Massachusetts are discovering, “vaping” has “exploded” among teens and this perception is backed up by national health researchers. He called vaping “an epidemic” and said a national review shows that in just three years, the numbers have skyrocketed among high schoolers from 1 in 25 to now, just 1 in 4 have said they have used an e-cigarette recently.
“According to the CDC, the percentage of high school students who reported using an e-cigarette at least once during the month the survey was taken was 4.5 percent in 2013. As of 2016, this number increased to an astonishing 23.7 percent,” Lewis said. “Anecdotally, I have heard from some high schools in our area that the vaping rate may now exceed 40 percent. School officials are scrambling to figure out how to respond.”
Lewis said there has been far too little research done of the risks and effects of vaping, particularly among teens.
“There has not yet been sufficient time to study the long-term health effects and risks of vaping. Some tobacco control advocates and public health experts believe that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking and, therefore, can be a harm reduction strategy for adult smokers who have been unable to quit,” he said. “Others disagree and believe it is a mistake to treat e-cigarettes differently than other tobacco products.”
Lewis said Massachusetts local boards of health are looking closely at regulating vaping.
“We need to implement these important safeguards statewide,” he said.