Hoosier legislators are taking an aggressive stance on vaping and other tobacco products this session.
It’s about time.
Although it’s unfortunate that it’s taken the sudden epidemic of vaping to spur action, it’s a good sign that lawmakers are finally getting serious about passing some measures that can improve public health.
Indiana has long been ranked toward the bottom nationally in annual health rankings and the state’s high and stubborn smoking rate has been mostly to blame.
A little more than one-fifth of Hoosiers still smoke, and if you look county-by-county, rural counties and poor areas are more likely to have a higher prevalence of smoking than say, affluent Hamilton County. Northeast Indiana is no exception to this rule, as counties in our region have some of the state’s higher tobacco rates.
Beyond ongoing cigarette use, vaping has become a major issue to be addressed.
Originally branded as an alternative for cigarette smokers to wean away from burning tobacco and reduce smoking, what instead has happened is that numerous people — young people especially — have started vaping.
Since vaping e-liquid contains nicotine, the addictive substance found in tobacco, vaping has led a generation of would-be nonsmokers into smoking. Early statistics also show a troubling trend that, after getting hooked, some vapers move on to become smokers.
Scattered cases of health emergencies — breathing problems, even death in a few rare cases — have put even more scrutiny on vaping as an activity that needs significantly more regulation and needs it now.
So what are lawmakers up to?
• First off, Indiana is finally in the process of raising its smoking age to 21. Although advocated by anti-smoking groups for years, it’s kind of a moot point now, as federal lawmakers approved a nationwide increase to 21 in December set to take effect this year. Still, pushing back the legal age, a newer concept nationally, has already been correlated with lower smoking rates.
• Second, lawmakers are working to ban Vitamin E acetate from vaping liquids. This substance, an additive in some e-liquids, has been a common thread in cases of serious lung injury.
• Third, a bill to sharply increase the fines for retailers caught selling tobacco products to underage buyers has made its way out of committee. If a retailer is caught violating enough, they could lose their license to sell tobacco products.
• Fourth, Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, said he was working on a bill to introduce a ban on flavored e-liquids. Part of the reason vaping has been so attractive to youth is flavored liquids that can make smoking taste good. Neighboring Michigan has already taken this step in an effort to reduce the attractiveness of vaping to young people. Whether that happens in Indiana is an open question.
• Fifth, Abbott highlighted measures to treat vaping the same as smoking in the state’s public places smoking ban. Although vapor doesn’t necessarily have the same impact as second-hand smoke, keeping it out of public places reinforces the message that it is not a healthy behavior.
Will these measures and others not mentioned solve the vaping problem overnight? Probably not.
Like underage smoking, underage vaping is a problem that won’t be eliminated simply by changing the laws. Underage smokers are lawbreakers and as long as they figure out how to get their hands on tobacco, they’ll use it.
However, efforts to make it harder to obtain tobacco products and frustrate the efforts of underage smokers are a big piece of the puzzle.
But outreach and education needs to be part of the process too. In the model of anti-smoking advocacy that’s happened in the past or the “Just Say No” drug campaigns of yesteryear, young people need to be given information about the dangers of vaping early and often.
We applaud lawmakers for the steps they’re taking now. But the battle won’t end here. We hope they’ll stay the course and continue attacking this problem in the years to come.
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.