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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Now is the time to take action against vaping, smoking among Indiana youth

We’ve been sounding the alarm all along, but the problem continues to spread in Indiana: Vaping is harming people in our state. Four have died so far.

The increase in vaping among youth is rising at such an alarming rate the U.S. surgeon general calls it an epidemic that “demands action to protect the lives of young people.”

The Indiana State Department of Health reports there have been 55 confirmed vaping-related injuries in Indiana, 57 probable and four deaths. Statistics show 50 percent of the illnesses from vaping have occurred in the 18-29 age group, and 14 percent have been among youth ages 13-17.

While recent studies show smoking tobacco cigarettes has reached a new low among young people nationally, in Indiana the use of e-cigarettes and vaping among youth has risen more than 350 percent among high school and middle school students since 2012.

According to the ISDH, cigarette smoking among high school students in Indiana decreased from 13.7% in 2012 to 5.2% in 2018, while vaping went up from 3.8% to 18.5% in the same time period. For middle school students, smoking went down from 3.7% to 1.9% from 2012 to 2018, while vaping increased during that span from 1.2% to 5.5%.

The causes of those increases include offering vaping products in flavors, new products, advertising and easy access.

We wrote in an editorial earlier this month in support of an Indiana Legislature public health study committee’s approval of a recommendation from a state legislative panel that Indiana’s legal age for buying cigarettes, both tobacco and electronic, be raised to 21.

Monday, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, announced a change of mind on the issue, saying he now joins the majority of the House Republican caucus in supporting raising the age to 21, noting the increase in youth vaping and related deaths and illnesses. He said he changed his mind because the armed services and veterans’ groups also support the age change.

The ISDH says it began investigating vaping-related severe lung injuries in August, finding that most individuals have reported vaping THC, the ingredient in marijuana, or other substances, “but it’s unknown what specific products, brand or substance is causing these injuries. More information is being learned as new cases are investigated and data analyzed.”

The department is collaborating with local partners, health care providers, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control in trying to keep up with what they see is a rapidly changing situation.

The CDC is recommending if people are concerned about the health risks involved they should consider refraining from using e-cigarettes or vaping products until more is known.

Bosma, who announced he will not seek re-election following the end of the 2020 legislative session in mid-March, also suggested Monday the state might consider banning or limiting flavored e-liquids, one of the biggest attractions for teen vaping.

“It seems to me to be the right thing to do,” Bosma said, “and the right time to do it.”

No such action in Indiana has been formally proposed at this point, but we think that effort should be considered in the General Assembly in the coming session. A coalition of organizations wanted the state to add $2 to the present 99.5-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes as well as raising the age to buy tobacco products to 21. But the Legislature failed to act on these issues during this year’s session.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray says he supports the measures but said moves on tax increases aren’t likely to happen in the coming session because the state’s two-year budget plan was finalized this year.

“That opens up the budget,” Bray said. “It’s not a good time.”

News-Sentinel.com would agree with Bosma that the time is right for action now. And we reiterate that we hope the Legislature will not put tax revenue ahead of the health of our youth and realize that the consequences of inaction will lead to the continuing increase in addiction to nicotine in Indiana and the ensuing increase in health expenses over the long haul.

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