How old do you have to be to buy e-cigarettes (vapes)? It depends on what state you’re in.

In Wisconsin the answer is 18. In Illinois the answer since July 1 is 21.

Youth2Youth Director Debbie Fischer talked about the dangers of vaping and what’s being done to stop the youth epidemic. She made a presentation Monday at the Milton Public Library.

According to Fischer, every e-cigarette, whether it says it has nicotine or not, has nicotine.

A 2009 FDA found cancer-causing substances in several of the electronic delivery devices tested and found nicotine in some electronic delivery devices that claimed to contain no nicotine. A JUUL has about as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes, she said.

“We really don’t know how much nicotine is in all these because they are not regulated,” Fischer said.

The components of vapes are a battery, vaporizer and a cartridge to put the nicotine or THC or other drug in, she described.

Pod vaporizers are refillable. According to Fischer, a couple of e-liquid nicotine drops can be equivalent to three or four packs of cigarettes, and people might use a full pod or a couple pods daily.

She pointed to a cart displaying some of the dangerous chemicals in vapes. Examples include formaldehyde and battery acid.

Also dangerous is the aerosol.

“You cannot vape water,” she said. “Every vape has aerosol in it and aerosol is very damaging to your lungs and other parts of the body.”

Compared to cigarettes, there’s not a lot of research about vapes.

“Every day we’re learning more,” she said.

Laws are changing to help curb the use of vaping products as the CDC, FDA, state and local health departments and others investigate a multi-state outbreak of lung disease associated with vaping product use.

A City of Beloit ordinance went into effect last week that prohibits the sale and possession of e-cigarette and vaping products by minors. The change also includes the products in the city’s smoke-free policy.

The ordinance prohibits the use of vaping products in the same areas included where smoking cigarettes is banned. Prohibited areas include all enclosed spaces that are places of employment or public places, including childcare facilities, schools, health care facilities, theaters, restaurants, bars, retail establishments, government buildings, and more. The city took on the effort after being approached by youth advocates and residents with Youth2Youth.

The City of Milton in 2016 amended an ordinance to prohibit the use and possession, by children under the age of 18, of electronic delivery devices or any substances intended for human consumption that may be used by a person to smoke or simulate smoking through inhalation of vapor or aerosol.

The City of Milton in its ordinances does not yet prohibit vaping in areas where smoking is prohibited.


Why would youth be interested in vaping?

Fischer blames the flavoring. There are thousands.

Kids think flavors like “unicorn skunk” are cool, she said.

According to Fischer, nine out of 10 Wisconsin teens have said they wouldn’t try e-cigarettes if they didn’t have flavoring.

The Trump administration announced last week that the FDA intends to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

The announcement came as preliminary numbers from the National Youth Tobacco Survey show a continued rise in youth e-cigarette use, especially through the use of non-tobacco flavors. Preliminary data show that more than a quarter of high school students were current (past 30 day) e-cigarette users in 2019 and the overwhelming majority of youth e-cigarette users cited the use of popular fruit and menthol or mint flavors.

If the federal law passes, Fischer said the only flavor would be tobacco.

“There’s no way they’re going to use that unless they’re already addicted,” she said.

And, they may be.

Fischer pointed out nicotine is more addictive than heroin or cocaine.

Most recently, on September 9, the FDA issued a warning letter to JUUL Labs Inc. for marketing unauthorized modified risk tobacco products by engaging in labeling, advertising, and/or other activities directed to consumers, including a presentation given to youth at a school. Concurrently, the agency issued a second letter expressing its concern — and requesting additional information — about several issues raised in a recent Congressional hearing regarding JUUL’s outreach and marking practices, including those targeted at students, tribes, health insurers and employers.

When JUUL came on the scene about three years ago, Fischer said everything changed. Kids started vaping and the percentage of those who vape increased dramatically, she said. JUUL agreed to not market to kids, but Fischer said the damage was already done.

Kids are doing the marketing on social media, she said.

While electronic delivery devices are currently unregulated by the FDA, the use by and sale to children of electronic delivery devices containing nicotine (“nicotine products”) is prohibited by Wisconsin law and local ordinances.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday he would be directing the state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council to hold an emergency meeting on Sept. 17 to ban e-cigarette flavors.


Efforts also are being made in the area of education.

The FDA in partnership with the Surgeon General joined forces with Scholastic to distribute youth e-cigarette prevention posters and lesson plans to every public and private high school in the U.S. – with additional resources planned for middle school educators throughout the 2019-2020 school year.

Fischer is hopeful strides can be made to reduce youth vaping.

“I so much believe in our youth,” she said. They will be the ones who talk to their peers about the associated health risks and that’s what’s going to change things, she said.

Fischer points to youth smoking rates being nearly 50 percent when she started working to reduce substance abuse among youth 26 years ago. Now, she said youth smoking rates are down to nearly 5 percent.

“We can change this,” she said. “I really believe in our generation that we can educate youth. They hate cigarettes. They think they’re gross. Most kids won’t touch them. They stink. That’s because we did a good job educating.”

Austin Montgomery of Adams Publishing Group contributed to this report. 

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