Lowest smoking percentage ever in Oneida County only part of the story
Earlier this month, a report by the Wisconsin Department of Health said that smoking has reached an all-time low. However, this change may be a result of a negative trend that has skyrocketed, displacing traditional cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes, more commonly known as e-cigs, are a form of vapor-based smoking devices, that, according to the report, have jumped powerfully in usage. In Wisconsin, a reported eight percent of High School students use e-cigarettes.
“Wisconsin’s high school e-cigarette usage rate is at 75 percent higher than the national average,” said Maria Skubal, community health specialist with the Oneida County Health Department. “In the state of Wisconsin, 8 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes compared to the national average of 4.5 percent.”
The lowest percentage of adult smokers ever, 18 percent for the state, is two percent lower than 2012, and just slightly higher than the national average of 17.8 percent.
Youth smoking of traditional cigarettes has dropped, approximately one percent from 2013, though this is a change that may be affected by e-cigarettes.
“I think it’s directly related,” Skubal said. “I think there probably is a very strong correlation between those two, one going down and the other going up.
Another issue brought up during the study was the accessibility of tobacco to underage users.
“Oneida County was actually the worst of our six county coalition,” Skubal said. “It’s hard because Oneida County has a much bigger population… but living in Northern Wisconsin, rural communities, you tend to have individuals who turn to tobacco products a little bit more, and use them more frequently.”
The compliance checks for local businesses are conducted by the Oneida County Health Department, unlike the study, which was conducted on a statewide level. Oneida is part of a coalition of counties also including Forest, Florence, Lincoln, Price and Vilas counties, called the Northwoods Tobacco Free Coalition.
The checks are part of a program called Wisconsin Wins, which is targeted at youth tobacco use.
“The problem with e-cigarettes basically boils down to the fact they are not FDA regulated. So anything can be in this little cartridge at the end,” Skubal said. “E-cigarettes that become really concerning are ones that are maybe made in China, we have no idea what’s in them, so without an FDA regulation, they can literally put anything into this cartridge.”
E-cigs are often marketed as a safe alternative to smoking, sometimes even as a way to quit smoking traditional cigarettes.
“They’re exempt from smoke-free air so you can be using them anywhere, and a lot of people just feel that vapors are what’s being emitted, and when you hear the word vapor you tend to think ‘water’, but that’s not necessarily the case when you don’t know what’s in that cartridge to begin with,” Skubal said.
According to the American Lung Association, e-cigarettes have not been proven as an effective smoking cessation device, which is essentially what the developers claim.
In addition to having potentially harmful emissions, the liquid that e-cigarettes contain can have deadly effects. Nicotine in liquid form is poisonous, and when cartridges or refill bottles break or spill, the contents are an environmental hazard.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers “reported that poisoning incidents involving e-cigarettes and nicotine liquids continue to soar, so through November 30th of this year there have been 3,638 calls to poison control centers involving exposure to e-cigarettes,” Skubal said.
Liquid nicotine is especially harmful to children— according to an article from ABC News, an accident earlier this month “could be the first child to die from liquid nicotine, the substance used in e-cigarettes.” The child allegedly died after ingesting liquid nicotine by accident.
“It’s a great success that Wisconsin’s at that all-time low of 18 percent,” Skubal said. “But when e-cigarette usage is tripling, more than 75 percent in high school students in the state of Wisconsin, I mean that’s, that’s pretty concerning.”
The study also indicated that percentage of adult smokers is much higher in the low-income populations, and with those who never received more than a high-school degree, at 33 percent.
“We have had some successes this year,” Skubal said, “Tobacco use remains the number one cause of preventable death and disease in Wisconsin.”
Skubal noted that there are many sources of information and help for those who are looking to quit. She recommended calling 1-800-QUITNOW or contacting the health department. In addition, there is a new program at Trig’s is aimed at helping community members quit, called Striving to Quit.
“It’s a state program, offered to everyone,” said Thomas Nelson, a pharmacist at Trig’s. “It’s targeted at lower income citizens… offered to anyone on the Wisconsin Medical Assistance Program.”
Anyone interested in the Striving to Quit program should contact Trig’s Pharmacy.
The Oneida County Health Department also has a program specifically for pregnant women trying to quit. For more information contact the health department.