It’s widely known that Indiana has a smoking problem.

A 2018 study showed more than 21% of Hoosiers adults smoke — ranking Indiana as the 7th-highest state in the nation in the percentage of adult smokers.

Now, it’s becoming clear that we also have a vaping problem.

A brand-new report says 6 percent of Hoosiers use electronic cigarettes, the 3rd-highest rate of vaping in the nation.

Even more disturbing, a national statistic shows 3.6 million middle school and high school students reported vaping on a regular basis in 2018.

Thanks largely to the boom in e-cigarettes, some 4.9 million middle and high school students used tobacco last year, up from 3.6 million in 2017 — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

E-cigarette increased by 78% among high school students and by 48% among middle school students from 2017 to 2018, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Friday, Indiana reported its first death from severe lung injury due to vaping — only the third in the nation. The victim was an adult.

In Indiana, Sen. Todd Young and Gov. Eric Holcomb are taking action.

“One of the best ways to change these statistics is to change the legal tobacco age of sale,” Young said in an article he wrote for CNN.

“Nearly all smokers — an astounding 95% — start before the age 21. And, sadly, if the current rates of smoking continue, the CDC projects 5.6 million of today’s youth will eventually die from preventable, smoking-related illnesses — that’s about one out of every 13 living Americans ages 17 or younger,” Young wrote.

Young is sponsoring the Tobacco to 21 Act to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. A Republican, Young is working with senators from both parties as cosponsors of the bill.

In Indianapolis 10 days ago, the Indiana State Department of Health, at the direction of Holcomb, unveiled a three-pronged strategy to reduce vaping among Indiana youth.

The 2018 Indiana Youth Tobacco Survey found that nearly 19 percent of high school students reported current e-cigarette use. About 22 percent of Indiana high school and middle school students who currently use e-cigarettes also smoke traditional cigarettes.

The plan includes:

• an educational tool kit for schools, parents and students,

• a youth-focused text-to-quit program; and

• a statewide vaping public awareness campaign to focus on prevention and cessation.

On the smoking front, starting Aug. 1, Hoosiers can buy tobacco cessation products at Indiana pharmacies without a prescription.

Indiana Medicaid now will reimburse health care providers offering tobacco-cessation counseling for expectant mothers. Women who smoke are at least twice as likely to have premature births, which is the leading cause of infant mortality in Indiana. Our state ranks a shameful 7th in the nation for infant mortalities.

Indiana still may not be doing enough.

Congress might raise the smoking age to 21, but the current age limit of 18 does not stop school children from smoking and vaping.

Michigan last week outlawed the sale of e-cigarettes with flavors — such as such as mint, candy, fruit and chocolate, which appeal to young users.

School resources officers frequently are on the front line this new epidemic. They could use additional support from their districts, state and federal governments, and from parents, too. Education is a key component, especially since many vaping devices are designed to be easily concealed from parents, teachers and police.

As they prepare for their 2020 session, we encourage Indiana legislators to join the fight against smoking and vaping, by enacting new rules to protect Hoosiers — especially our teenagers.

OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.

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