Letter: Yes, we should care if teens vape

The Forum recently published Rob Port’s column which asked, “Should we care if teens vape?” As a public health professional working with schools currently dealing with this crisis, the answer is a resounding "yes."

Unfortunately, the author largely dismissed this rising health threat of youth nicotine addiction.

We are better off heeding the advice of the nation’s top doctor. The Surgeon General recently issued a rare advisory urging immediate action on youth e-cigarette use, following national surveys showing e-cigarette use doubled among teens. It is only the second advisory issued by the Surgeon General since 2005.

Here in Minnesota, we are seeing similar increases. Our latest data, the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, revealed that youth tobacco use increased for the first time in a generation. One in five Minnesota high school students reported using e-cigarettes, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2014.

Medical professionals and the Minnesota Department of Health all agree that nicotine harms the developing adolescent brain whether in a cigarette, e-cigarette or other tobacco product. There is no such thing as a safe amount of nicotine and youth nicotine use may prime the brain for addiction.

Young people continue to be targeted by the tobacco industry, which is seeking to addict the next generation of customers. Instead of downplaying the health risks, let’s work together to protect young people from addiction. Raising the tobacco age to 21, restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products, increasing the price of tobacco products and investing in tobacco prevention and quit-smoking programs are all good places to start.