For the first time, state health officials say electronic cigarettes have overtaken traditional tobacco cigarettes as the preference of Iowa teens. Data from the Iowa Youth Survey taken last fall finds more Iowa high school students say they’re now using e-cigarettes than those who light up.
That’s not exactly good news, according to Garin Buttermore, who works to prevent youth from starting smoking. “More 11th graders are reporting using e-cigarettes currently, which is in the last 30 days, than traditional cigarettes or chew or cigars or any other tobacco product,” Buttermore says, “and that’s true with 6th and 8th grades as well.”
Buttermore, a community health consultant in the Tobacco Division of the Iowa Department of Public Health, says e-cigarettes were initially marketed as a “safe” alternative to traditional cigarettes. While they were billed as a good way to quit smoking, now it appears, they may be good way to start smoking, too.
“That’s part of the worry,” Buttermore says. “You get people addicted to nicotine and you think they’re safer. ‘Oh, it’s just water vapor, you know.’ Really, it’s an aerosol made up of other chemicals, including nicotine. Now, you’re addicted to nicotine. What do you do now? You either keep paying for the nicotine or maybe, what would be awful, is you start using traditional cigarettes.”
He notes, another disturbing element unveiled in the survey is that young people, as early as 6th grade, are getting a hold of e-cigarettes and using them. In the 2014 legislative session, a law was passed requiring that you be 18 to purchase e-cigarettes, the same as traditional cigarettes. Before that, he says, e-cigarettes weren’t mentioned anywhere in Iowa law.
“The Smoke-free Air Act of Iowa doesn’t cover e-cigarettes or those other non-combustible products,” Buttermore says, “but if you own or are the manager of a restaurant or a business, you can make your own policy that says, ‘No, we’re not going to allow e-cigarettes to be used in this establishment or on these grounds.'”
The survey shows 11-percent of Iowa 11th graders said they’d used e-cigarettes in the previous month, compared to 10-percent who said they’d smoked traditional cigarettes.