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Health Experts Warn that Electronic Cigarette Smoking Among Teens is Surging in Kentucky, Elsewhere

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While youth cigarette smoking has steadily declined in Kentucky, health advocates are sounding the alarm on next generation tobacco. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping among high school students nationwide has increased 78 percent in the past year alone, putting a new generation at risk of nicotine addiction. 

Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky held a statewide briefing on Monday in several cities aimed at increasing awareness of the dangers of electronic cigarettes.

One of the attendees at the Bowling Green location was Rich Nading, the tobacco control coordinator with the Green River District Health Department in Owensboro.  He said most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other chemicals that cause young people to become addicted and affect their brain development.

"Fifty years from now, just like combustible cigarettes and secondhand smoke, we're going to know things that will probably astound us," he told WKU Public Radio. "If we could go forward in time and know what's going to come out of studies and what we'll learn about these products, we'd be scared to death."

Vaping products were marketed to help adult smokers wean themselves from traditional cigarettes, but in an interview with WKU Public Radio last month, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky President and CEO Ben Chandler said there isn't solid evidence suggesting electronic cigarettes are effective for that purpose.  Instead, fruity flavors have attracted teens to e-cigarettes, which have varying levels of nicotine.  In 2009, the FDA banned flavored cigarettes because they appealed to youth. 

According to focus groups conducted in October, most Kentucky teens said their parents knew nothing about vaping.  State law prevents electronic cigarettes from being sold to anyone under 18, but teens say e-cigarettes are prevalent in schools, sometimes even in the classroom.  E-cigarettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and may not look like a tobacco product, which makes them harder to spot. 

Health advocates say they will lobby the General Assembly in 2019 to make all Kentucky schools tobacco-free, which would include vaping.  The group will also push for a ban on flavors in electronic cigarettes anda  tax on e-cigarettes equal to the tobacco tax on regular cigarettes.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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