Utah legislative leaders want to snuff growing youth e-cigarette use

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SALT LAKE CITY — Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson are so concerned about escalating use of e-cigarettes by youth that they recently directed multiple legislative committees to study the issue and develop possible solutions.

Recently, legislative leaders met with interim committee leaders to discuss an array of issues to study during the interim session, said Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara.

"One of the issues that they … wanted us to look at was the increasing and concerning use of e-cigarettes by young people, vaping. They asked that it actually be assigned to four different committees to study — Education, Judiciary, Revenue and Taxation and Health and Human Services," said Snow, who is co-chairman of the Education Interim Committee.

Nearly 5 million American high school and middle school students used tobacco products in 2018, up from 3.6 million in 2017, according to a Centers for Disease Control Vital Signs report.

This trend holds true even in Utah, which has lower teen smoking rates than many states. Fewer than 3 percent of Utah youth surveyed in grades eight, 10 and 12 reported using actual cigarettes.

But use of e-cigarettes has doubled in the past five years, with 11.1 percent of Utah teens surveyed reporting they have vaped.

"This increase — driven by a surge in e-cigarette use — erased past progress in reducing youth tobacco product use," according to a Vital Signs report published by the CDC.

The report notes tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States and "nearly all tobacco use begins in adolescence."

Instead of each of the four committees studying some aspect of e-cigarette use by youth, Snow said when he and Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, looked at the charge, "we felt it would be more effective to have a study group comprised of representatives of each of those committees." Henderson is co-chairwoman of the Education Interim Committee.

They sent out an email and one or two members of three other interim committees indicated they want to participate in the working group, to be led by Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan.

Representatives of the Utah State Board of Education, Utah School Superintendents Association, the Department of Human Services, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Department of Health have also been asked to participate, Snow said.

The working group's charge is to develop recommendations for legislation by the end of the interim study period, typically late fall.

"That's certainly an area that is very concerning and (we) hope you'll support us in that. We look forward to hearing back from that group," he said.

Experts say e-cigarette manufacturers target youths with flavors like bubblegum, cotton candy and fruit. Manufacturers have developed vaping devices that look like USB flash drives or pens, which make it easier for youths to hide use of the tobacco products from parents and other adults.

It is also concerning that it is difficult to tell exactly what's in e-cigarette products and few studies have been done to document potential harm.

According to the CDC, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can harm the developing adolescent brain.

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