Working to Prevent Youth Vaping and Tobacco Use

Tobacco Free
Success Story

April 10, 2024

Every year in the US, more than 448,000 people die from tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke, making  it the leading cause of death in the country. Tragically, each day thousands of kids still pick up a tobacco product for the very first  time. The No. 1 product of choice for youth is electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes. Youth vaping is an epidemic problem. Action is needed to  reduce youth access to tobacco products and vaping devices.

The dangers of smoking and tobacco use have been a concern since the early 1900s. Throughout the 20th century, Minnesota has enacted many policies to reduce tobacco use in communities. SHIP has been working on  commercial tobacco prevention outcomes at the point of sale since the  2009 Family Smoking Prevention and tobacco Control Act paved the way for states and localities to adopt more restrictive tobacco control  regulations towards commercial tobacco control and prevention efforts.

Aitkin County Public Health has actively supported this by collaborating with the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office to complete “Congratulate &  Educate” (C&E) compliance checks for tobacco retailers across the  county. These checks are in addition to compliance checks and do not  result in fines for retailers or clerks that sell to an underaged buyer. Instead, education is provided. Congratulations and thank yous are expressed for retailers that do not sell tobacco products to the underaged buyers. C&E checks can help reinforce education before compliance checks. In 2023, Public Health provided education to six  retailers. The effectiveness of the education was evident when  compliance checks were completed later and only three retailers sold to  the underage buyer.

Education  is also an important part of reducing youth vaping and tobacco use. Public Health has collaborated with each of the districts to help raise  awareness among students and staff about the dangers of vaping.  Presentations about vaping and how it is particularly harmful to youth  were provided to McGregor middle school students as well as Hill City  middle and high school students. Emphasis was put on nicotine’s effect on the adolescent brain. Hill City School staff also received education about the dangers of vaping and how Big Tobacco targets youth through  advertising and flavors.

Implementing policy, system and environmental changes is another step in reducing youth vaping and tobacco use. Policy, systems and environmental (PSE) change strategies are designed to promote healthy behaviors by making healthy choices readily available and easily accessible in the  community. PSE change is also created to keep sustainability in mind.

Aitkin County Public Health has worked with the Hill City School District to  update its school tobacco policy. This three-tiered policy focuses on  providing education and resources to the student, encouraging them to  think about quitting, instead of suspensions for students in violation.  Beginning discussions are happening with both McGregor and Aitkin school  districts on changing policies to include providing the education,  resources and support that the students need.

Aitkin County Public Health also acknowledges that preventing youth access at the point of sale is imperative. The Aitkin County Tobacco Ordinance is currently being revised to include regulations that prevent access at the point of sale. The next step in the process is for the ordinance to be presented and reviewed by the Aitkin County Ordinance Committee. After this, a public hearing will take place before the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners vote and pass the proposed ordinance.

It will take the entire community working together to effectively reduce the impact that vaping and tobacco are having on our youth.

By Brea Hamdorf, Registered Nurse, Public Health Nurse and Certified Lactation Specialist with Aitkin County Public Health. Published in the Aitkin Age on March 10, 2024.

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