Eagle County Commissioners: Time to act on youth tobacco use

Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney and Matt Scherr
Valley Voices

Over the past year, several Eagle County teens have met with the Board of County Commissioners, asking the county to take action to reduce smoking and vaping in and near their schools. These high schoolers have also made presentations to several towns about the impact of tobacco use and vaping in their lives.

As a community, we need to listen to our teen leaders and take action to ensure healthy and safe learning and social environments for our children. So, as part of our commitment to the health and safety of all Eagle County residents, we are considering several actions to limit access to tobacco and nicotine products by young users.

Alarming statistics

A new state law allows the county to enhance community and teen health by raising the minimum purchasing age for tobacco and nicotine products to 21. This law also allows the county to seek voter approval for a sales tax increase on tobacco and nicotine products.

National and Colorado data about teen tobacco use — especially regarding e-cigarettes or vaping — is alarming, and we believe should be addressed in our community. A recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that Colorado has the highest vaping rate among the 37 states surveyed, with Colorado teens vaping nicotine at twice the national average.

Health concerns regarding the impact of vaping on developing minds and bodies are paramount, particularly given emerging research on the heavy metals, carcinogens and high concentrations of nicotine ingested from vape aerosol. Current reports from young people trying to quit confirm what years of brain research have shown: nicotine is a highly addictive chemical. In fact, youth who vape are four times more likely to start smoking than their peers who don’t. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, vaping products can have two times the amount of nicotine over cigarettes, making quitting even harder.

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In Eagle County, according to the November 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado survey, both cigarette and vaping use by youth is on the rise. Consider these stats:

  • 39.3 percent of Eagle County high schoolers reported use of vaping products within the past 30 days, compared to 27.1 percent in 2015.
  • 13.1 percent of Eagle County high schoolers reported smoking cigarettes within the past 30 days, compared to 10.5 percent in 2015.

Usage amongst Eagle County youth is also higher than national averages:

  • The 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey indicates 20.8 percent of national high schoolers using vaping products.
  • In 2018, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reports 8.1 percent of all high school students are current smokers.

A good start

The towns of Avon and Basalt have already increased the minimum age to 21 and have added taxes to tobacco and nicotine products. But teens near these communities are still able to visit neighboring stores in unincorporated Eagle County to purchase these products.

It’s time to have a consistent policy on purchasing age and sales tax across our entire county.

We are moving toward increasing the minimum age for purchase of any tobacco or nicotine product sold in unincorporated Eagle County to 21. The county is working with local municipalities that wish to have the purchase age increased within their boundaries. We are also considering a 2019 question for county voters to increase the sales tax on tobacco and nicotine products — including e-cigarettes and vaping products.

Research studies and real-world examples show that a combination of tobacco/nicotine price increases, along with increased age restrictions, is the most effective deterrent for underage users. Increasing price produces the greatest reduction in tobacco use and initiation, particularly among 15- to 17-year-olds. Youth are more sensitive to price increases due to their limited resources, and research by the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium shows that for every 10 percent increase in price, youth prevalence of cigarette use declines 6-7%.

We hope that taking these actions will help improve our community’s health and act as a deterrent for underage users who want to smoke or vape. Free FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy products and trained counseling support are available through Colorado Quitline for anyone over the age of 17.

Eagle County’s health — and our teens — deserve to be protected by each of us living here. We look forward to the discussion and welcome your support on these important decisions.

Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney and Matt Scherr are Eagle County commissioners.

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