May 20, 2016

Issue briefs bolster argument for reining in youth tobacco access, e-cigarettes, says Tanzi

STATE HOUSE – Rep. Teresa Tanzi urged fellow lawmakers to support stronger measures aimed at reducing youth tobacco use today, as the Rhode Island Public Health Association released issue briefs showing overall tobacco use and the popularity of e-cigarettes are both on the rise among Rhode Island youth.

“Clearly, we must do more to prevent adolescents from becoming hooked on tobacco products, or we risk losing some of the gains we’ve made in reducing smoking in recent years. The data shows us that we can’t concentrate only on cigarettes, because the industry has shrewdly turned its focus on other products, particularly e-cigarettes, promoting them as a safer alternative,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “Anti-smoking initiatives need to keep pace with the changing industry and its efforts to hook young people. The overwhelming majority of tobacco users start young, and public health efforts need to be targeted at the products they’re using to protect new generations of Rhode Islanders from the lethal effects of lifelong tobacco use.”

The briefs, which were released today at a State House event with a panel discussion that included Representative Tanzi, Sen. Joshua Miller, Erin Boles Welsh of the Rhode Island Department of Health Tobacco Program and Jennifer Wall of Tobacco Free Rhode Island, show that e-cigarettes were the mostly commonly used tobacco product among Rhode Island high school students in 2015, with 19.3 percent of respondents the National Youth Tobacco Survey saying they currently used them. The same survey showed 4.8 percent of respondents reported currently smoking traditional cigarettes.

“Without stringent public health laws governing the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems the marketplace is vulnerable for middle school and high school consumption,” said the brief on youth tobacco use.

“Many Rhode Islanders, including many of our legislators don’t realize that tobacco use among youth is increasing. Most of that increase is directly due to use of eCigarettes,” said Dr. Patricia Risica, advocacy chairperson of RIPHA, who facilitated the panel discussion.

Representative Tanzi has introduced legislation aimed at both reducing youth tobacco youth overall, and at reining in the use of electronic nicotine systems. Her bills would raise the minimum age to purchase all tobacco products in Rhode Island from 18 to 21 (2016-H 7737), and prohibit the use of electronic nicotine-delivery system products in enclosed public places and enclosed facilities within places of employment (2016-H 7664).

She said while the briefs contain some glimmers of hope — that Rhode Island has the third-lowest youth smoking rate in the county — they also provide ample evidence to demonstrate that more needs to be done to prevent Rhode Island youth from becoming addicted to tobacco products.

“Every year, 700 more Rhode Island children become daily smokers. Most will smoke for years if not their entire lives, putting them at much higher risk for serious illness, poor overall health and shorter lives. We should not settle for this status quo, which costs lives and a tremendous amount of preventable health care costs year after year,” said Representative Tanzi.