As Acting Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) I am privileged to oversee many areas that impact both the mental health and wellness of Connecticut residents. DMHAS knows an effective way to influence the health of our communities is prevention. We have all heard the well-worn sayings – “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” or “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”– there is value to this wisdom.
At the DMHAS Prevention and Health Promotion unit, the job is to promote prevention. From opioid and overdose awareness, alcohol and tobacco prevention, to suicide prevention, the unit applies science-based techniques, facts, and data to improve lives and decrease or eliminate risky behaviors. Data indicates that the longer we can delay risky behaviors such as tobacco use in our children, the less likely they will encounter chronic difficulties in these areas as adults.
As we celebrate the Great American Smoke Out, Thursday, Nov. 18, millions of Americans across the country are trying to do the right thing and not light up or vape. By participating in the Great American Smoke Out every adult can contribute to the healthy future of our children by modeling positive choices for the younger generation.
I am pleased to share that for many years now Connecticut’s conventional cigarette smoking rate has been in sharp decline in large part because of thoughtful legislation, education, awareness, and enforcement of youth access laws. This has led to changes in the culture surrounding tobacco use; no easy task.
All of these changes over time have directly contributed to Connecticut having one of the lowest adult smoking rates in the nation – Connecticut can be proud of that! That change in culture has translated into changes in behavior that has saved untold thousands from the ravages of disease associated with conventional tobacco use. We celebrated these changes until the early 2000s when electronic cigarettes gained popularity.
Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, also known as electronic cigarettes, first appeared in the United States in 2007. Electronic cigarettes contain the highly addictive chemical nicotine. At first unregulated, the early devices slowly moved into the Connecticut marketplace without much fanfare or impact. In fact, conventional cigarette smoking among adults and youth continued to decline during this period. In 2015 a shift occurred. The product was redesigned and a device was produced that more closely mimics the nicotine delivery system of a conventional tobacco cigarette. Using social media to show off a sleek new design and a variety of flavors, electronic cigarettes dominated the market.
Unfortunately, minors who frequent social media platforms started buying and using these devices. Youth usage rates quickly increased from 7.5% in 2015 to over 27% in 2019, as reported in the 2019 Youth Tobacco Survey. This means 1 in 4 Connecticut high school students have used an electronic cigarette in the last 30 days. In October of 2019, the Connecticut legislature responded to the crisis and increased the minimum purchase age of electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21 years old.
In addition, the new state law requires the retailer to check the photo ID of anyone who appears under the age of 30 years old. The nation followed soon after, raising the age to 21 in all the states under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. DMHAS will be continuing efforts to end youth vaping through education, awareness, and enforcement of Connecticut’s youth access laws.
Electronic cigarettes have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a cessation device. If you or a loved one are trying to quit smoking, you should seek out approved nicotine replacement therapies and seek the guidance of a cessation specialist and/or a healthcare provider. A good place to start is by calling Connecticut’s Quit-line: 1-866-END-HABIT or 1-866-363-4224 and visit: Quit Now for free guidance and assistance.
I will close with this: Parents and trusted adults, your job is now more important than ever and it is not an easy one. What you do matters. One of the best things you can do as a parent, guardian or trusted adult is to have regular conversations with youth about the dangers associated with electronic cigarettes. Help is available to assist you with that conversation by visiting: Prevention Services (ct.gov).
And remember, “The first wealth is health.”
Nancy Navarretta, MA, LPC, NCC, is the Acting Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, in partnership with the Wheeler Clinic and the Connecticut Clearinghouse, is included among the advertising sponsors of this website.
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