A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKY Chamber of Commerce Government Forum focuses on concerns about vaping epidemic

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Government Forum November 25, to discuss concerns over the increased use of vaping devices in the region.

Vaping Epidemic in Northern Kentucky: Facts and Solutions, brought together a panel of experts for a discussion on the use of vaping devices and e-cigarettes in the region.

The NKyChamber Government Forum: Vaping Epidemic in Northern Kentucky: Facts and Solutions took place at SETEC in Erlanger, Nov.25. Panelists were (seated l to r), Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, Chair of the House Health and Family Services Committee, Stephanie Vogel, Director of Population Health, NKY Health and Ben Chandler, President and CEO of the Foundation for Healthy Kentucky (photos by Mark Hansel) The discussion was moderated by St. Elizabeth Healthcare CEO Garren Colvin (photos by Mark Hansel).

The forum took place at the St. Elizabeth Training and Education Center (SETEC) in Erlanger and was moderated by St. Elizabeth CEO Garren Colvin.

Panelists included Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, Chair of the House Health and Family Services Committee, Ben Chandler, President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Stephanie Vogel, Director of Population Health, Northern Kentucky Health Department.

Colvin said he wanted to moderate the discussion because the explosion of vaping by teenagers is harmful and has happened so quickly, the extent of the damage cannot yet be quantified.

“If you look back 20 years ago, one in four teenagers smoked, people did it,” Colvin said. “If you look probably five years ago, it was one in 20, great progress. With the introduction of Juul in 2017, we are back to one in four teenagers are either vaping or smoking and that’s why we are here today.”

Moser first talked about the passage of the tobacco-free schools bill during the 2019 legislative session.  She praised Chandler and Foundation for Healthy Kentucky for efforts to encourage passage.

“This is a piece of legislation that was filed for about five years and had passed the Senate, but we couldn’t get it through the House,” Moser said. Last year the Senate kind of said if we want to pass this we are going to have to start it in the house, so we did. We introduced legislation that will, and is, making a huge difference in students’ access to tobacco products.”

Prior to passage of the legislation, 42 percent of all school districts in Kentucky were tobacco-free. There is an opt-out clause in the bill that was added to ensure passage, but in the months since the legislation became law, more than 95 percent of schools have become tobacco free.

Chandler explained why the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has increased its efforts to address vaping. He pointed out that Kentucky already leads the nation in cancer deaths.

“The last thing we need is getting a whole new generation of kids addicted to nicotine,” Chandler said.

Chandler pointed to recent statistics that indicate while three percent of adults use vaping products, more than 27 percent of high school students use them.

“This is a tool being used much more frequently by high school students…and we have got to stop that,” Chandler said. “There are a whole lot of kids using these products that otherwise would not use tobacco.”

Vogel said that that while the percentage of adults that vape is still relatively low, compared to students, it is increasing especially among some age groups.

“Our youth, and then also those around 18 to 24, a very high percentage of folks in that particular age group are using e-cigarettes,” Vogel said. “When you think about that one in three high school students using, one in five middle school students using, that’s a lot.  If you’ve got kids in those age groups and you’ve got a group of them sitting around in your house, you can probably pinpoint one or two of those, just to put that into perspective.”

The reason that is a cause for concern, Vogel said, is that evidence indicates when children start to use at that age, they transition into traditional cigarettes later in life.

“We really think it’s important to work with our youth right now, so they are not starting to smoke and use the e-cigarettes, because many of them are not exactly aware of what they are using.”

Moser said many of the youths she has spoken to really don’t have any idea what they are ingesting.

“They think its water vapor only and in very small print, somewhere on the packaging usually it says it contains nicotine,” Moser said. “We know that one pod is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. A lot of the devices have the possibility of having interchangeable pod, so those pods can be interchanged with illicit drugs.”

Did you know?

Some of the statistics that demonstrate why there is so much concern about tobacco use and vaping in Kentucky, include:

• Kentucky has the second highest adult (24.5 percent) and youth (16.9 percent) smoking rates in the nation.

• 2,900 youth start smoking every year in Kentucky.

• Kentucky is the cancer capital of the nation. Kentuckians die of cancer at rates higher than any other state, and 34 percent of deaths due to cancer in Kentucky are related to smoking.

• Nearly 9,000 Kentuckians die every year from smoking-related diseases; and if the rate of youth smoking is not reduced, 119,000 Kentucky kids now younger than 18 will die prematurely.

• Smoking-related health care costs in the Commonwealth total $1.92 billion each year.

Health care professionals, educators and community stakeholders from across the region attended the NKY Chamber Government Forum: Vaping Epidemic in Northern Kentucky: Facts and Solutions at SETEC Nov. 25.

The FDA says that teen e-cigarette use has reached epidemic levels, rising at very sharp levels in just the last year and most smoking starts before age 18.

Not only does vaping start at a young age, there is strong evidence that manufacturers are targeting youths in marketing campaigns.

Chandler talked about several devices designed to entice youth to vape. He displayed a hooded sweat shirt, commonly referred to as a “hoodie,” that is also a vaping device, on which the drawstring is used to inhale. Flavored products such as bubble gum and cotton candy are also widely marketed.

“When these products are produced, you have to go a long way to convince me, that it’s not targeting young people,” Chandler said.

The panelists agreed that legislation and regulation are important, those measures take time.

In the interim, the education of parents, teachers and students is critical to discourage use and curb the epidemic.

Information on vaping and e-cigareets is available from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky here  and from the Northern Kentucky Health Department here. 

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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