Health

One in five high school students nationwide uses e-cigarettes, known as vaping, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistic is alarming to health experts, and on Monday, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Kentucky Youth Advocates and other stakeholders will gather to discuss what can be done to reduce e-cigarette use among young people.

The conference is being organized by the The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow.

Bonnie Hackbarth is vice president of external affairs at the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. She said the state can’t afford to “addict a new generation to tobacco products.”

“And that’s what’s really happening here — kids are using e-cigarettes at a rapid pace,” Hackbarth said. “And what we’re going to end up with is a whole new generation addicted to nicotine and dealing with all of the health issues associated with that.”

During Monday’s event, Hackbarth said there will be a presentation on findings from focus groups made up of teens who use e-cigarettes. Experts will also talk about the role that flavors in e-cigarettes play in teen use. In September, the Food and Drug Administration cracked down on 1,300 convenience stores, gas stations and other establishments for selling e-cigarettes to people under age 18 – the legal age to buy. In November, the FDA issued more rules, including a mandate that stores make sure flavored e-cigarettes are only accessible to people over age 18.

The e-cigarette industry has said restricting flavored e-cigs will stop adults from using the products as a smoking cessation tool. But Hackbarth said the jury is still out on whether e-cigarettes actually help adults stop smoking.

“They may or may not help with smoking cessation, and you need to understand they contain chemicals and heavy metals and nicotine that can be dangerous to your health,” Hackbarth said.

Hackbarth said both the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates will continue pushing for an excise tax on e-cigarettes in addition to the existing sales tax. 

“The Next Generation Tobacco: The Impact of E-Cigarettes on Kentucky’s Future Health” conference will take place in Louisville on Monday, with remote locations to be held across Kentucky. More information can be found here

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.