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Ely school officials focus on dangers of vaping, e-cigarettes

Keith Vandervort

ELY – The Minnesota Department of Health says one in four middle and high school students have tried vaping, and that number is expected to keep rising. Vaping is the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes.

Ely Memorial School officials this week hosted an informational session for parents and students by the American Lung Association that highlighted the dangers and risks of using this 21st century replacement for traditional cigarettes.

Taylour Blakeman, health promotions specialist for the Duluth ALA office, spoke to about 20 people in the Memorial School media center and delivered a somber warning: The number of youth who start vaping will continue to rise.

According to a Minnesota student survey from 2016, as many as one in three 11th grade boys in St. Louis County are using various forms of tobacco.

“Products like e-cigarettes, e-hookahs and vape pens typically contain liquid forms of nicotine and are currently unregulated,” Blakeman said. “No amount of nicotine is safe for youth. It is highly addictive and may harm adolescent brain development. Damaging long-term effects may have implications for learning, memory, attention, behavior problems and future addiction.”

Memorial School Principal Megan Anderson referred to the issue as an “epidemic.” She related an experience from just last week when she brought her kids to school and one of them picked up a curious-looking device in the parking lot. “It resembled a flash-drive or memory stick used on a computer,” she said. “This is what we are dealing with. This is a small and pretty concealable item. This is pretty scary.”

Blakeman said the highest rates of e-cigarette smoking occur in the northeast part of the state. “In the northeast region of our state, the current rate of smoking is 18.8 percent, compared to the statewide average of 14.4 percent,” she said. “In St. Louis County, according to the Minnesota Student Survey, 23 percent of eighth-graders believe there is little or no risk in smoking.”

Blakeman talked about the varied forms of vaping devices that are available and the difficulty in recognizing them by parents and teachers. “They can look like a pen or a computer storage device. “They can have pictures of pretty animals or flowers and anyone could look right past them as just another school supply,” she said.

“The vapor or ‘smoke’ produced by e-cigarettes does not smell like tobacco,” she said. “Instead, manufacturers have produced different flavors, like maple pancakes, vanilla cupcakes, and candy flavors as a way to entice more young smokers.”

There is no statewide vaping ban in Minnesota. Instead, vaping is prohibited in state and local government buildings, facilities of state colleges and universities, facilities licensed by Commissioner of Human Services, and facilities licensed by Commissioner of Health.

As many as 21 municipalities here in Minnesota have passed Tobacco 21 laws. According to a Feb. 20, 2017, article by Raymond Boyle in MinnPost, “implementing Tobacco 21 laws in Minnesota would prevent 30,000 state kids from becoming smokers over the next 15 years.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz wants to ban all flavored e-cigarettes in Minnesota, but in order to make it happen, he needs the legislature to act. “We can’t play both sides on this and think things through. Sour Patch Kids flavor is aimed at children, so quit pretending there is a free enterprise component of this,” Walz said recently.

He blasted big tobacco companies for marketing e-cigs directly to kids. “If I have a message: Shame on them. This is clearly meant to addict our children,” Walz said.

He also wants a ban on sales of all tobacco products to anyone under 21. Six states have implemented Tobacco 21 ordinances that ban the sale of all tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said state Republicans have no set position on the governor’s proposals. The legislature is back in session on Feb. 11, 2020.

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