Missouri Health Department wants parents to recognize changes in tobacco products their children may be using

Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 6:35 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - When you think of marijuana use, your first thought might be someone smoking a joint.

But marijuana consumption comes in many different forms, from food and drinks to topical oils, bath salts, or lotions applied to the skin.

Tobacco products have also changed with the times, and cigarettes are no longer the number one choice among teens.

That’s why the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has started a new campaign to educate parents about how the world of tobacco products has changed so that they can monitor their children’s exposure to those products.

According to the National Institutes of Health, smoking during adolescence increases the risk of developing psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment (trouble remembering, learning, concentrating, or making decisions) in later life.

“About 98 percent of people who smoke ended up starting before the age of 21,” pointed out Valerie Howard, the leader of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program at DHSS. “So the younger you start, the more likely you are to continue using for a longer time.”

“Tobacco is Changing” is the name of the campaign because the Department of Health and Senior Services wants parents to know how those products are different from traditional cigarettes and how they’re being marketed to the public.

For instance, the e-cigarette is now the product of choice among teens, with 40 percent of Missouri high school students having tried the electronic device that simulates tobacco smoking. Four-out-of-five kids who’ve used tobacco have tried “vaping,” a flavored product, first.

And there are currently more high school students using e-cigarettes than adults who smoke all tobacco products.

“Missouri is number 10 in the country for adult use of tobacco products,” Howard said. “So to see that our youth using electronic cigarettes has surpassed adult use overall is concerning.”

The campaign points out to parents that e-cigarettes come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. They can look like fidget spinners, make-up compacts, USB drives, and writing pens.

And they can also be disguised as something else.

“It can be hidden in a drawstring in a child’s hoodie, in a watch, or in a backpack,” Howard said. “They can be hard to spot, and they can be odorless.”

Tobacco flavoring packages can also be hard to spot as they can be mistaken for mint tins, taffy, or packs of gum.

“Just as soon as one product gets on the scene, here comes another one,” Howard said. “And it’s hard to stay ahead of them.”

This campaign comes when the American Lung Association has given Missouri failing grades in four-of-five categories it examines. The state got an “F” in Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Funding, Smoke-free Air, Tobacco Taxes, and Flavored Tobacco Products. Missouri got a “C” in Access to Cessation Services.

“Given where Missouri is with our policies and our funding for tobacco prevention and control is reflected in those grades,” Howard explained. “We’re one of a handful of states left in the country that still does not have a statewide smoke-free law. We still have a law on the books that allows youth to purchase tobacco products at the age of 18, whereas the federal law is 21. And we have the lowest tax on tobacco products in the country at 17 cents. We got a “C” in tobacco cessation services because our Medicaid program has one of the best cessation packages in the country. We’ve gone up with the “C,” but the rest of the grades have been an “F” or “D” for many years.”

The campaign, which hopes to address some of those cessation concerns, also guides how parents and schools should address tobacco use with their children.

“Number one is awareness,” Howard said. “If you know your child is using a nicotine product, you should have an open and honest conversation with them and share your concerns and expectations. You can bring it up at an appropriate time. For example, if you’re driving down the road and you see a vape shop, you could ask your child about what they think about that and ask them if they know of anybody who uses it. Just do it in a conversational way that’s non-threatening.”

Free help for teens to quit using e-cigarettes is available by texting VAPEFREEMO to 873873 or at YouCanQuit.org.

For more information about the Tobacco Is Changing campaign, visit TobaccoIsChangingMO.org.

Parents can view the tobacco products at TobaccoIsChangingMO.org.

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com