By HEATHER LARSON POYNER firstname.lastname@example.org
At a recent gathering hosted by the Kenosha, Racine and Walworth Tobacco-Free Coalition and the Hope Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, legislators, health care professionals, law enforcement officers and community representatives learned about problems posed by electronic nicotine delivery systems, also known as ENDS.
These problems include the sale of ENDS products to youth under age 18; the placement of nicotine-containing products within reach of minors in retail establishments; the lack of excise tax on nicotine-containing ENDS, and the lack of city ordinances regarding ENDS products in Kenosha.
In several areas, Wisconsin is lagging behind other states, said Darcie Warren of the American Lung Association, representing the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin’s tobacco prevention and control programs are only funded at one-tenth of what is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control,” Warren said.
“That means that some of these problems persist in our state. There are no cigarette tax revenues that are directed at prevention programming.”
Attendees of the breakfast also got up close and personal with products that many may not have encountered previously.
Displayed on plates were e-cigarettes, “e juice pods”, tobacco cigarettes, cigarillos and snuff — nicotine containing products — mixed in with candy cigarettes, breath mints and chewing gum. To the untrained eye, the brightly colored packages all looked the same.
Which was exactly the point, Warren said. “There has been a proliferation of e-cigarettes in the last ten years, but the new brands and different types is really surprising,” she said.
Among them are products in kid-friendly flavors and packaging or others, like the JUUL, which look like USB drives. “And they come in mint, mango, so popular with youth at this point that focus groups are actually calling this Juuling instead of e-cigarette use or vaping,” Warren said.
Warren also cited several YouTube videos in which teens are instructing other teens on effective ways to conceal their vaping in school. “For example, these videos show teens inhaling and blowing the vapor into their sleeves.”
The real problem with the ENDS items, however, is how easily they get into the hands of minors in the first place, Warren said.
Citing statistics from Wisconsin Wins, a state retail sales compliance program, Warren said that in 2017 cigarettes and chewing tobacco were sold about 10 percent of the time to minors; but “new and emerging products” such as electronic cigarette liquids were sold to those under 18 about 25 percent of the time.
“This is a structural problem in Wisconsin,” Warren said. “The federal government mandates that cigarettes and chewing tobacco have to be kept behind the counter in a locked case and many other states also require that e-cigs and components kept behind the counter and in locked cases. But in Wisconsin this is not a requirement.”
As a result, these products are being sold more often, she said.
Lack of taxation also poses a problem, noted Warren. Because ENDS are not taxed as tobacco products, they are more affordable to youth.
Local law enforcement also expressed frustration with the current situation regarding ENDS.
“The only real solution is to educate kids right now,” he said. “Tell the kids this is not what you think it is — it is not harmless.”
Guida Brown, executive director the Hope Council, noted that the ENDS industry is evolving as fast as agencies can develop prevention programs. “We talk about ‘e-cigarettes’ and kids say, ‘Do you mean ‘vaping?’ The language is changing so fast!”
Legislators who attended were all on the same page as well.
State Sen. Robert Wirch said he “could see a level playing field (regarding taxation) for all tobacco products” and advised those attending to put pressure on their legislators before the next state budget cycle.
“These new products are very harmful and we need laws to try to protect people,” agreed State Rep. Peter Barca. “Some of these issues are no-brainers, like keeping these products behind the counter. The statistics are so clear that with (legislative) policy, hopefully we can accomplish this.”
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