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An agreement reached this week by the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce on tobacco control legislation will have a huge impact on youth tobacco use in Wisconsin, which has increased substantially over the past two years due to the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products. The agreement between the committees is part of a proposed federal legislation that, if passed, could have a huge impact on youth tobacco use in Wisconsin and across the country.
Included in that agreement is a move to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21, an effort referred to nationally as “Tobacco 21.” Considering that nine of 10 tobacco users start before 21, and that youth are particularly susceptible to marketing practices and are targets of the tobacco industry, this change could have major impacts.
Here in Wisconsin, similar legislation to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 is being proposed. Members of FACT, Wisconsin’s youth-led tobacco prevention movement have been meeting with elected officials and their aides to educate them about the impact of tobacco on youth, the rise of electronic cigarette use, and the importance of licensing e-cigarette retailers. Under the current proposed legislation electronic cigarette retailers will continue to operate unlicensed.
“I think we really got a chance to open up the eyes of our legislator’s staff. So they can help us to stress the importance of our message to our legislators: the decision-makers,” said FACT member Kayla McPike.
FACT member Nia Kamara said teens spend months getting their driver’s licenses, and recognize having them as a privilege. They also realize that if they violate that privilege by not following the rules they could lose that right, something unlicensed electronic cigarettes dealers don’t have to worry about.
Another best practice that the FACT members have discussed with elected officials and their aides is the need to not take punitive measures against youth who are caught vaping, and instead offer alternatives like programs that can help them quit.
In Eau Claire, school officials have been taking efforts to enroll students caught vaping in the “CATCH My Breath Youth E-Cigarette and JUUL Prevention Program.”
FACT member Ta’Niya Robinsin said she appreciates that local action is being taken to address youth tobacco use, and is glad that state leaders are taking the time to listen to their concerns and learn about their efforts.
“Our legislative visit was a great opportunity to let those who can help us make a difference know what our FACT group has been up to as well as what we could do to make more change in addition to changes that we’ve already had the pleasure of achieving. Our goal is to help our next generation become tobacco-free,” said Robinson.