For years, vapes and vaporization technology has been sold by tobacco companies as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. At a glance, this can be seen as an altruistic and commendable action by the companies, as they seek to shift their customers away from more harmful methods of nicotine delivery and toward more reasonable and health-conscious ones.
However, we cannot look at this issue with just a glance. A tobacco company relies on its customers for profits, and a customer of a tobacco company is significantly more likely to become addicted to tobacco – thus guaranteeing these companies customers for life.
In this light, the shift from cigarettes to vapes takes on a different light. When cigarette use dropped heavily among young people, vapes just so happened to hit the market. While vapes are a valuable tool for some tobacco users to reduce their exposure to carcinogens, they’re also a valuable tool for tobacco corporations to deliver new, seemingly less harmful products to customers, who may be unaware of the risks involved.
In late 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 2% of high school students reported smoking cigarettes within a 30-day period; seven times more, or 14% of high schoolers, reported using vapes and e-cigarettes in the last month.
With studies and evidence showing that advertising of products drives their adoption, and that in the 2010s, significant amounts of advertisements for vaporizers were aimed at youth markets, it’s clear that tobacco companies utilize vapes to hook new customers. With this advertising in mind, Connecticut needs to do more to promote cessation of smoking, especially when the state has received tens of millions in settlements from tobacco companies in past years but ranks last in tobacco use cessation efforts.
I’m hopeful that changes soon, as Connecticut passed a bill last year that requires the investment of $12 million per year toward tobacco and nicotine prevention reduction. This was a great first step and the result of significant effort from my fellow legislators. It will make sure that Connecticut invests in not only helping people quit smoking, but helping them never start smoking in the first place.
However, it is not enough. The CDC has made recommendations that states like Connecticut invest much more in nicotine deterrence education, with reports showing anywhere from $22.7 to $32 million annually will help ensure the state properly invests in educational and prevention strategies. I do not see the passage of last year’s $12 million benchmark as a success; I see it as a starting point.
Increasing our allocation of resources, especially as the state continues to reach settlements with companies like JUUL for improper advertisement of vaping, is a vital and necessary strategy in the face of the demographics and realities of tobacco use and addiction in the United States. Nearly 90% of smokers first try tobacco by age 18 and 99% have tried smoking by 26; at the same time, 85.5% of high school students who used vaping products in 2022 reported using flavored vaping to do so, indicative of the power of advertising.
By increasing our investments in reduction and prevention efforts, we can better counter the tobacco industry’s grasp on our young children; the best way to stop someone from smoking is to make sure they never start. Such a success would have positive benefits for our children, our communities and our state’s public health.
Dr. Saud Anwar, a Democrat from South Windsor, represents Connecticut’s 3rd Senate District — East Hartford, East Windsor, South Windsor and part of Ellington.