Officials from Columbus Regional Health and Healthy Communities are urging the Columbus City Council to amend the city’s smoking ordinance to include electronic cigarettes.
Kylee Jones, tobacco awareness coordinator at Healthy Communities, and Beth Morris, director of community health partnerships at CRH, appeared before the city council seeking the change.
Jones gave a presentation on the prevalence of electronic cigarette use and some of the health risks associated with the products, including the effects of nicotine and other chemicals, exposure to second-hand aerosol from electronic cigarettes, among others.
“We think amending the ordinance will send a message about how this community understands the risks (of electronic cigarettes) and help parents understand as well,” said Morris said during the city council meeting on June 18.
In 2012, Indiana instituted a statewide policy that bans smoking in all workplaces except for bars, casinos, private clubs whose members vote to allow smoking, home-based businesses whose only employees are family members and tobacco retail shops. A city or county can pass a stronger law that institutes additional smoking regulations.
Columbus approved a smoke-free ordinance in 2012 that prohibited smoking in private clubs, bars, taverns and all facilities listed as exceptions under the Indiana smoking law. The policy does not address the use of electronic cigarettes.
An electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, is a hand-held, battery-powered device that simulates smoking by creating a nicotine-laced aerosol that users inhale. Electronic cigarettes come in different shapes and sizes, though some look like traditional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes do not burn tobacco. Instead, they have cartridges that contain a mixture of nicotine and other chemicals. The use of electronic cigarettes is often referred to as “vaping” due to the vapor-like aerosol the devices emits.
The public appeal by Columbus Regional Health officials came as health care providers around the country are attempting to combat the increasing use of e-cigarettes among youth.
Though the rate of teens smoking traditional cigarettes in the United States reached an all-time low of 4.6 percent in 2018, the use of e-cigarettes has soared in recent years, reaching 19.2 percent in 2018, a 60 percent increase from the year before, according to Monitoring the Future’s National Adolescent Drug Trends survey.
In Bartholomew County, 29 percent of high school seniors at Bartholomew County School Corp. schools have reported using an e-cigarette, according to data presented during the city council meeting.
“E-cigarettes are erasing everything we’ve done with (traditional) cigarettes,” Jones said.
Earlier this month, Healthy Communities announced that the Indiana State Department of Health had awarded it a $160,000 grant to continue its smoking cessation efforts and expand prevention efforts targeting youth in the Bartholomew County.
Most notably, the grant will allow Healthy Communities to hire a youth coordinator to help prevent and reduce the use tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, among local youth, primarily from 7th to 12th grades.
“The big thing that is included in this grant is the youth coordinator,” Jones said. “We’re able to hire a youth coordinator to work with schools. The youth coordinator would be primarily working with youth and youth-serving agencies.”
Though there is limited research into the long-term effects of electronic cigarettes, researchers and experts caution that most electronic cigarettes contain harmful or potentially harmful ingredients, including nicotine, an addictive substance that naturally occurs in tobacco plants that has been linked to increased blood pressure and spiked levels of adrenaline, which can increase a user’s heart rate to increase and potentially lead to a heart attack, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s website.
However, the types and concentrations of chemicals in electronic cigarettes vary by brand. Some electronic cigarette cartridges contain as much as 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine, according to Truth, a national anti-smoking campaign aimed at teenagers.
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Visit crh.org/community-foundation/healthy-communities/tobacco-awareness to learn more about Healthy Communities’ tobacco awareness efforts.