E-cigarettes among youth a growing concern in northeast Iowa

By Zach Jensen,

Tobacco use among local youths slightly decreased in September, but Ashley Havenstrite of Helping Services of Northeast Iowa (HSNEI) said the results of that survey might be deceiving. 

Havenstrite shared tobacco-use information with the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors during its regular meeting Oct. 10 — during which, on behalf of HSNEI — she requested that the supervisors proclaim a week in November as Northeast Iowa Tobacco Awareness Week in Winneshiek County.

“The past 30-day use survey did show a decrease,” Havenstrite said. “However, as far as what we’re hearing from schools and our youth groups, they don’t feel it’s going down. They think it’s getting worse, and another thing is that it’s happening younger and younger.”

“Is there a lack of awareness of the hazards of vaping and electronic cigarettes?” asked Supervisor Steve Kelsay. “Is that a contributing factor?”

“I think people think they have a good understanding, but I still think there’s a lack of awareness, because people still think it’s safe versus traditional cigarettes,” Havenstrite said. “But, another thing I think is an issue is … I brought some products to share with you. When you look at these products, they look small, but the amount of nicotine advertised in these is 5 percent. I don’t know what you guys think about 5 percent, but to me, that sounds really low, right? You really have to do some research to find out what 5 percent is. However, there are 50 cigarettes worth of nicotine in this (product), and in this other, small device, there’s about 400 cigarettes worth of nicotine. So, I believe people pick them up, because obviously, it looks cool, right? And, also, just not understanding how much nicotine is in here. 

“And, even if we found out how much nicotine is in here, this is a whole different type of nicotine,” she continued. “This is what we call nicotine salt, which is created by introducing benzoic acid to the product, so more nicotine reaches the brain at much faster rates. So, these products can be said to cause nicotine dependence much quicker than traditional tobacco products. So, I think the combination of lack of knowledge and how easy these things are is a huge issue.”

Havenstrite reported that nicotine, itself, is dangerous, because it can restrict airways and affect the cardiovascular system, causing strokes and heart attacks. 

“Tobacco kills more people than alcohol, tobacco, aids, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined,” Havenstrite said, reading the proclamation to the board. “Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in this country, and studies show tobacco … more people need to become aware of the dangers of smoking, varieties of tobacco products and second-hand smoke. There’s no safe level of second-hand smoke — even if it’s outdoors. About 41,000 deaths per year are attributed to second-hand smoke. About 400 infant deaths per year are attributed to second-hand smoke as well, in the United States. The Iowa Youth Survey 2021, the latest data we have, shows about 22 percent of eleventh graders in Winneshiek County reported ever using an e-cigarette; with sixth graders reporting 3 percent. And, just to make it known, the Iowa Youth Survey only goes down to sixth grade, so I really don’t have any data lower than that to show you. However, I was just meeting with a school in one of the six counties I serve, and they said they just caught a fourth grader last week. So, this is happening younger and younger this year. About 25 percent of eighth graders in Winneshiek County, who use e-cigarettes, report their first use being between the ages of 11 and 12. So, now, therefore, we the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors do proclaim that Nov. 12-18, 2023, as Northeast Iowa Tobacco Awareness Week in Winneshiek County.”

The supervisors unanimously approved the proclamation. 

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