Missouri to parents: Tobacco landscape is changing to tempt kids into addiction
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Missouri to parents: Tobacco landscape is changing to tempt kids into addiction

Mar 27, 2023

by Alisa Nelson | Jun 1, 2023 | Health / Medicine, News, Politics / Govt

Missouri says youth electronic cigarette use remains an epidemic, with an estimated one in five high schoolers using electronic cigarette products. The state has launched an anti-tobacco campaign to let parents of teens know about the different candy-flavored tobacco products tempting kids and the many shapes that electronic cigarettes come in.

Valerie Howard, Missouri's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program Manager, said the state has rolled out the "Tobacco is Changing" campaign.

"About one in five Missouri youth are using electronic cigarettes," she said. "A little higher than 50% of those who have tried to quit in the last year, and within that 50%, at least one in 10 have actually sought help. That tells me that these kids are recognizing that they have a problem and are wanting help to quit."

E-cigarettes can be disguised to look like smart watches, makeup compacts, and smokeless tobacco products can look like toothpicks.

"They can be hidden in a lot of different things and disguised so that it's hard to tell that that's what's being used," said Howard. "And so, I know on our website we have things like can be put in makeup compacts, and flash drives is one of the originals, but in pens, and watches, and then the strings for hoodies for sweatshirts."

The minimum age to buy tobacco products in Missouri is 18. At the federal level, the age minimum is 21.

"As things tighten up legislatively, the tobacco industry has been very, very good at coming back with additional products to keep that nicotine in the marketplace. The industry has really gotten very clever with how you can use it in a product and be pretty discreet about it," she said.

According to the state, e-cigarettes continue to be the tobacco product of choice for teens. There are currently more high school students in Missouri using e-cigarettes than adults who smoke (17%).

"Often what we do see with use of electronic cigarette products is dual use," said Howard. "So many people who use electronic cigarettes also use combustible tobacco, which is cigarettes. And some people are also using liquid THC in their electronic nicotine delivery system and that electronic cigarette device. So, we’ve got kids that are using lots of different forms of nicotine, which is a lot for the developing adolescent brain and for a young person. That's a lot of nicotine that's being ingested into that person's body, which can lead to addiction."

The state says research shows the minty-flavor of menthol makes tobacco more appealing to youth, easier to use, and tougher to quit. It's also reportedly one of the main tactics the tobacco industry has historically used to target young people and communities of color.

Then there's synthetic nicotine to take into consideration.

"Those pouches that you see advertised that they are tobacco free, one might think nicotine free. That is not the case," said Howard. "They have no tobacco leaf in it, but there's still nicotine in it. It's a nicotine pouch – synthetic nicotine."

More information is available at TobaccoIsChangingMO.org. The website even gives parents tips on how to talk to their child about this topic and actions they can take to reduce youth tobacco use.

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