Volusia County pushes to keep teens from e-cigarettes

By Brittany Jones, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, July 27, 2017, 5:24 PM EDT

A new report is showing traditional teen cigarette use is going down but e-cigarette use is up in Volusia County.

Kristen Mialki with Volusia County Health Department said e-cigarettes have become the most popular tobacco product used by teens in the county.

"It's very alarming, the numbers are very high and it needs to be something that we're paying attention too. It's almost the same issues we saw with tobacco years ago and it's scary because we've taken all of these steps forward," said Kristen Mialki, Tobacco Prevention Program manager.

The county put out their annual survey and Mialky said nearly half of the teens surveyed last year weren't sure if e-cigarettes were harmful. Twenty percent didn't think they were harmful at all, and only a little over 30 percent knew that they are.

The county said they are improving but can do better than where they are now. Their report card said they need to "increase the percent of middle and high schools with completely tobacco-free campuses."

"The problem is the youth doesn't seem to see them as harmful as conventional tobacco products, so they don't see them as much of a threat," said Mialki.

However, Mialki said the e-cigs could lead to lifelong nicotine addiction. The Centers for Disease Control says nicotine exposure in adolescence can harm the developing brain. Scientists are still studying how e-cigarettes can affect other aspects of a person's health.

Some studies so far have shown the e-cigarettes are less lethal than conventional cigarettes, according to a review of studies by Harvard Medical School last year. However, the review did find other concerns about them.

Aiding the growth of e-cigarettes in Volusia County are advertising and accessibility. Several schools in the county are also within close proximity, 300 feet to a mile, from a tobacco retailer.

"They are marketing these other products and the kids are using them at an alarming rate," said Mialki.

She added whether the health department sets up booths at events, hand out fliers or use their various programs to educate the public about the issue, the county will continue to find ways to combat the problem.

"We can definitely educate more and we will do that. We need to let them know these are not safe products," Mialki said. "They are still chemicals that are in these products and they still contain nicotine. That is an addictive poison."

The CDC reports an overall decline in e-cigarettes to 2.2 million last year, compared to 3 million before.