Why I Support Tobacco 21

tobacco 21

The Vermont legislature is considering several bills which will make it more difficult for teens to access tobacco products and tobacco substitutes, such as e-cigarettes and vaping products.

These include:

  • The restriction of internet sales of vaping products;
  • A new tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products; and
  • A bill to raise the age to purchase these products to 21.

All three address the vaping epidemic happening among Vermont middle and high school students. This scourge is widespread. A recent survey showed that almost 1 in 3 Vermont high school students tried a vaping product.

Why am I a supporter?

I’m an adult cardiologist. My patients are usually not in high school and few use vaping products. So, why am I a supporter of this legislation?

  • For one, I have a 12-year-old son. He may soon have to fend off the pressures of trying these products if the current environment doesn’t change.
  • Second, and this I say tongue-in-cheek, I want to put myself out of business!

Last year, my lab performed 1,300 procedures to open blocked heart arteries. The smoking rate in those who receive a stent for a blocked artery at the UVM Medical Center is 24 percent. Compare this to the current smoking rate in Vermont of 16 percent. Furthermore, we treated almost 300 patients with large heart attacks requiring stents. Most of these procedures occur “after hours,” prompting us to run into the hospital at all hours of the day to treat patients with life-sparing procedures.

Strikingly, the smoking rate among patients in this group at the UVM Medical Center was 48 percent.

Despite a lower smoking rate, smoking is still the number one preventable cause of disease in Vermont and in the United States.

What does this have to do with teen vaping?

A recent study (Source: JAMA Pediatrics) shows that teens who try vaping/e-cigarettes up to eight times more likely to start smoking cigarettes than those who do not vape.

And vaping itself is unlikely to be harmless. My colleagues who study respiratory diseases have already demonstrated the potential risks to lung health.

What about heart health?

I attended the most recent international cardiology research meeting last month. I sat in on a session during which we reviewed recent study data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the study, they associated at least a 30 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 50 percent increased risk of depression among those who vape and who have never smoked cigarettes.

We need to keep teens from accessing these products, and make them more expensive and more difficult to obtain. Most 15-17-year-olds who vape obtain the product from their 18-year-old classmates, who may legally purchase vaping products at convenience stores. Tobacco 21 will contribute substantially to realizing this goal.

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, contact your state legislator and the Governor about these measures.

Prospero Gogo, MD, is an interventional cardiologist at the UVM Medical Center where he is Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. He is also an associate professor at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. 

The University of Vermont Health Network supports legislative efforts to increase the legal age to purchase tobacco and address e-cigarette use. 

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