Story by Shari Rowe
As the press stake out spots in the small studio, people bustle about setting up cameras and opening their notebooks. Four students prepare and practice their speeches as everyone awaits Senator Todd Young’s arrival.
The topic of the hour is tobacco products like E-cigs and Juuls, and of the act going to Congress that intends to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products to 21, called Tobacco for 21. Those who support the act are very hopeful that it will pass.
“Well, I’m kind of like Senator Young. I’d like to think positively about it, but I’m not in the guarantee business. So I really hope it does, but could I a hundred percent guarantee it, I’m not in that position,” said Teresa Hebert, who helped set up the conference.
The students advocating for the act that spoke were FC students Tyler Barrett, Zachary Vitale, and Myla Tissandier, and New Albany student Ashia Carr. These teens are part of the group Teens For Tobacco 21, or T4TT.
“We got started in July of 2018 when we were doing a day of service with Miles for Merry Miracles. After visiting about five places where we volunteered we stopped for lunch and Ms. Hebert asked us, ‘What is one issue among your peers you’re concerned with most?’” said Barrett. “The first thing that popped into my mind was E-cigarettes. Then, one of the middle schoolers in our group said E-cigarettes. This is very shocking for us to hear, that E-cigarettes were even an issue in middle schools, so Ms. Hebert then asked us what are we going to do about it.”
Smoking is known as a dangerous activity, causing illnesses like lung disease and cancer; moreover, cigarettes are not the only product the act targets.
“Actually, another thing that has been a craze over our youth is vaping,” said Tissandier. “I recently read a news article about how eight teens were hospitalized because of severe lung damage from vaping. According to the CDC, the number of high schoolers who use E-cigarettes skyrocketed between 2011 and 2018 from 220,000 users to more than 3 million.”
According to the American Heart Association, while vaping doesn’t have everything that is in cigarettes, it should not be considered as an alternative.
“E-cig vapor includes potentially harmful substances such as nicotine, diacetyl (a chemical linked to a serious lung disease), cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead. And because vapor is exhaled, those nearby are also exposed to these contaminants,” they said on their website.
However, people under 18 have access to tobacco products with the age limit at 18. It is very unlikely that everyone under age would stop taking tobacco products, but it can reduce the amount.
“So it’s not uncommon for a fifteen-year-old to know an eighteen-year-old. It’s less common for a fifteen year old to have a close relationship to a 21-year old. So this is not a panacea, this is not a solution,” said Young, “but as so many of our speakers, student speakers, indicated today, the intention here is to significantly reduce the illegal transfer of tobacco products from some young people to other young people, and therefore significantly reduce the adverse health impacts associated with E-cigarettes and vaping and cigarettes.”
The act, overall, is meant to lower the amount of people who vape and smoke. It will also bring attention to the large problem at hand.
“When you have a staggering numbers of the increase in users that high, and in a product that’s that dangerous,” said State Senator Ron Grooms. “eventually your message will sink in. Eventually it will be, the message will be sold.”
The use of tobacco can cause long-term damaging side effects from disease to even death.
Vitale said, “The health of my friends and our future generation is far too valuable to let this go up in smoke.”