Saturday , September 06, 2014 - 11:59 AM
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah teenagers aren’t the only ones developing an electronic cigarette habit. New data from the Utah Department of Health shows adult usage of e-cigarettes across the state doubled in 2013.
The Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program’s annual Legislative Report reveals 4.8 percent of Utahns reported a current use of e-cigarettes in 2013, more than doubling the 1.9 percent reported in 2012. In the same time frame, adult cigarette smoking remained unchanged at 10.2 percent.
“This data indicates people are not using e-cigarettes to quit their addiction. It tells us that there is quite a bit of dual use occurring in the adult population,” said Weber-Morgan Health Department’s health educator Anna Guymon. “The numbers overall are extremely concerning. Our current adult use rate for e-cigarettes is 7.6 percent while our youth use rate is 20 percent.”
Davis County data shows 4.7 percent of adults were using e-cigarettes during that time frame. Bear River’s adult usage was 3.2 percent.
“We are very concerned with the latest increase in e-cigarette use for adults especially since the percentage of regular tobacco users in Utah hasn’t decreased,” said Lewis Garrett, director of the Davis County Health Department. “This is definitely the wrong way for these numbers to go because nicotine addiction is so very difficult for many people to overcome.”
According to a recent survey, 60 percent of Utah adults who use e-cigarettes also smoke regular cigarettes, the report shows. Additionally, nearly 15 percent of current e-cigarette users had never tried conventional cigarettes before picking up an e-cigarette.
“A great deal can be learned about e-cigarette use patterns from the new data,” said Adam Bramwell, spokesman for the state tobacco control program. “Put simply, if the rate of e-cigarette use has increased more than two-fold in just one year, yet the rate of cigarette smoking hasn’t changed, we have a problem. The industry is, in essence, addicting a new generation of users to nicotine delivered via a system it touts as a safe alternative to tobacco.”
Utah’s program is a partnership between the state health department and Utah’s 12 local health departments. UDOH executive director Dr. David Patton said no one knows the long-term effects of e-cigarettes.
“However, as these new data show, many Utahns are sustaining their nicotine addiction with daily use of both cigarettes and e-cigarettes. And as has been known for decades, the health risks of tobacco use are great, so anything that is furthering that addiction is guilty by association,” he said.
“The marketers and the producers of this product are selling them like hotcakes,” Bramwell said. But “any really quality research takes time. You want long-term studies to really know what these can do to a person’s body over time.”
The state report also underscores previously released data concerning teen e-cigarette usage in Utah. Between 2011 and 2013, teen use of e-cigarettes tripled. Currently, nearly 6 percent of Utah students in grades 8, 10, and 12 are illegally using e-cigarettes. Of those using, nearly one-third said they had never tried a tobacco cigarette. The youth use rate of conventional cigarettes is reported at 3.9 percent. Davis County reports 8.9 percent of youth using e-cigarettes while Bear River shows 5.2 percent.
Health departments are reaching out to the public through campaigns and other methods of education.
Members of the Bear River chapter of OUTRAGE! Utah’s statewide anti-tobacco youth group, highlighted concerns about youth e-cigarette use by manning a “stuff cart” at 14 schools and three community venues. The educational display was designed to highlight the sweet additives, such as cotton candy, pineapple punch and vanilla bean, that appeal to the young consumer.
In 2013, the Davis County Health Department held a town meeting with shop owners to discuss inconsistent and confusing labeling, leaking bottles of e-juice, the need for childproof caps, youth access and misstated levels of nicotine on e-juice labels. The health department then drafted a regulation addressing these concerns.
The Weber-Morgan Health Department also held a town meeting this year to discuss concerns related to youth access of e-cigarettes and to educate the public about Utah’s youth access laws. It also conducted a local study of advertising and pricing strategies that included placements and pricing of electronic nicotine delivery devices.
The Utah Department of Health encourages Utahns currently using tobacco and other nicotine devices to consider the long-term damage to their health, including emphysema, lung, mouth and other cancers, and tooth loss. Information on how to quit and free cessation services can be found at the state’s newest resource, www.waytoquit.org.
The e-cigarette industry in Utah has been outspoken and active during state and local regulatory actions curbing e-cigarettes.
Utah Vapers, a Salt Lake City-based trade organization, says e-cigarettes and other smokeless tobacco products have been shown to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with smoking.
“We focus on the prevention of tobacco harm and seek to cooperate with the Utah health agencies to function for the greater health of the Utah public,” the group’s website says. “The Utah Vapers was formed in 2011 to provide support and education regarding alternative methods of tobacco harm reduction after seeing many years of failed attempts by our public health agencies to reduce smoking rates in the region.”
Aaron Frazier, director of Utah Vapers, said that most of the hundreds of customers he’s dealt with don’t use both; those who do could be trying to get off cigarettes.
“When you look at the continuum of risk, these products are minuscule in comparison,” Frazier said.
But health officials are concerned that more kids are picking up the habit.
The devices could be more attractive to kids than cigarettes because they aren’t as harsh on the throat, and the liquid nicotine that comes in flavors such as cherry cheesecake and Mountain Dew is more appealing than tobacco.
“Whether you are an adult or a teenager, these flavors are tempting,” said Bramwell. “Before you know it, that kid is unwittingly building a nicotine addiction within him, which, in most cases, last an individual’s entire lifetime.”
The health department is calling for more regulation on sellers of the devices and excise taxes to make them too expensive for kids.
Though Frazier contested the idea that higher taxes would keep kids away, citing the already-high starting price of the devices, he said the industry would support licensing sellers and more rules to keep people under 19 out of the shops.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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