Efforts Underway To Reduce Adolescent Tobacco Use In Wisconsin

Dec 5, 2018

The Surgeon General of the United States first started warning Americans about the dangers of tobacco products in 1964. Five decades later, the effort to combat tobacco use now includes significant taxes on cigarettes, restrictions on advertising and diminishing spaces where it’s still legal to smoke in public.

Those efforts have been successful in reducing the statewide youth tobacco use rate to 8.1 percent for high school students and 1.3 percent for middle schoolers. But anti-tobacco advocates say they're concerned about trends among young people in the Milwaukee area, especially in the area of e-cigarettes.

"We've actually see e-cigarette use almost double state-wide from 2014-2016," notes Lorraine Lathen of the Wisconsin African-American Tobacco Prevention Network.

Newer e-cigarette products, such as the Juul, look like a flash drive, produce less vapor and come in various flavors, which makes it all that more appealing to adolescents.

"Studies have found that a lot of youth don't know that they contain nicotine. They actually contain a different formulation of nicotine — they use salts — so it effects the brain differently than previous versions of e-cigarettes," explains Anneke Mohr, coordinator of the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-free Alliance.

She adds, "The adolescent brain is more susceptible, so it’s still developing until about the age of 25. So, if people are using these products at an earlier age, I think they’re going to be more highly addicted and have an even harder time quitting."

Lathen notes that flavored tobacco products and cigarillos are not taxed at the same rate, so it makes it very affordable for young people and people living in poverty - which is especially true in Milwaukee in the African-American community.

"I think that the tobacco company has a long, long history of targeting the African-American community for its products," says Lathen. "If you think about an industry that spends a million dollars an hour in advertising, those messages, they're going to penetrate their target market."

Lathen and Mohr joined Lake Effect's Mitch Teich to discuss the best ways to prevent smoking, helping people quit more effectively, and what networks exist to lead those efforts: