In the past week, we’ve seen compelling and impassioned leadership from an 18 year and a state agency head both desiring to protect children from the faulty products of e-cigarettes, vaping and tobacco. The facts as we know them on these products are, of course, very important. The liquid in vaping devices has caused the deaths from poison of many small children. If the tobacco access age were raised to 21, it is estimated we would save 104,000 lives in Washington State. Tobacco companies have built their corporate empires on the intentional strategy of hooking kids under the age of 18, getting them addicted and then keeping them addicted for the rest of their most likely prematurely shortened lives.
But for me, the coolness of this past week’s efforts comes from the spirit of some of the people themselves who have testified in their own personal drive for a Healthier Washington.
I count myself lucky when I occasionally get to be in the same room as Secretary of Health, John Wiesman. He is not just smart, he brings his heart and a thoughtfulness to every conversation I’ve ever been in with him. He brought his passion and intellect to bear in a hearing on vape bill SB 6328 last week:
“We cannot lose another generation to nicotine.”
-John Wiesman to Washington State Senate Health Care Committee
Later in the same hearing, we see Sarah Stewart, a new rising advocacy star. Sarah, an 18 year old from Mercer Island has been a fresh face in youth advocacy, at times admonishing and then pleading with the adults who make system and policy decisions to do more to protect kids from harmful substances in all forms. We featured Sarah last week in HOPE Happens as our HOPEtivist.
Mercer Island teachers and other adults who support youth should be very proud! Mom, Lisa Stewart, is an advocacy powerhouse herself!
“You have the power to protect my classmates.”
-Sarah Stewart to Washington State Senate Health Care Committee
We need to back Sarah and her youth advocate friends. She is right and we have overwhelming evidence. Data from our state’s Healthy Youth Survey indicates a 67% increase in e-cig/vaping use amongst 10th graders in just two short years, 2012 to 2014.
We can be sure it’s jumped even higher than that since. Thanks to Tobacco Free Kids, we know that just under $100 million is estimated to be spent on tobacco advertising in WA state alone and that “published research studies have found that kids are twice as sensitive to tobacco advertising than adults and are more likely to be influenced to smoke by cigarette marketing than by peer pressure. One-third of underage experimentation with smoking is attributable to tobacco company advertising.” The issue is even receiving major media attention at this point as pointed out in this story featured on NBC.
These guys aren’t stupid after all. Just morally bankrupt. They know exactly how and why their advertising works on adolescent decision-making.
This is one of the many reasons I felt so strongly about bringing renowned adolescent brain science expert, Dr. Laurence Steinberg to our conference, The Science of HOPE, this April. Adolescence now lasts longer than ever, and the adolescent brain is surprisingly malleable. These new discoveries make this time of life crucial in determining a person’s ultimate success and happiness. His conference keynote will discuss the teenage brain’s potential for change, the elongation of adolescence as a developmental stage, and the implications of each for how we parent, educate, and understand young people. He will also be available to sign his fascinating new book, Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence. Register now to take advantage of early bird pricing which ends in two short weeks!
But the bundle of e-cigs, vaping and tobacco represent not just a health issue, it is a clear health equity issue. Advertising is targeted directly at low-income communities and communities of color in a drastically different manner than in privileged communities.
The history of big tobacco’s intentions and attitudes is well documented and can be summed up with this lovely quote:
“We don’t smoke that s***. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and stupid.”
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company Executive
Now we are seeing all over Washington state (and the country) that vape and e-cig companies are mimicking the tobacco strategies and concentrating signs and point of sale advertising in poorer neighborhoods and creating advertising clearly designed to appeal to young people. In some studies we have learned that advertising dollars for point of sale in convenience stores are more heavily spent in rural than urban areas. This is not just a “big city” problem.
We’ve got these guys on the defense now here in our state and we need to keep the pressure on. As a variety of local jurisdictions have successfully implemented their own regulations, they have also unintentionally created a major business problem for the industry by creating a multiplicity of different rules to follow for distribution. This cuts into profit margins. Boo hoo, right? Keep it up people!!
I want to be clear myself that if any compelling research surfaces to suggest that adult smokers are effectively using vape devices to get off cigarettes, then yes, that should reduce harm to them, presuming we also properly unpack what the toxins in the devices actually are and what health impacts those would have in the place of cigarettes. Reducing harm is a good thing. But the emerging research appears to tell a different story. And either way, none of the above industry behaviors are necessary to effectively provide a cigarette harm reduction tool to adults.
When you think about what you will put into your body, the only one you are given, which carries you through this amazing life experience we all get to have together, whether it’s food choices, beverages choices, substances choices, just remember that we are all connected, we are all stardust, and we need you! The human experience is one of relationship, interdependencies and connection. We need you to be as healthy and as strong as you can muster in order to contribute the personal and unique magic that only you have to bring. Only together can we create a world where enduring health equity is the norm.