Lung Association encourages state to raise tobacco taxes and prevention spending. For assistance with smoking cessation, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

While the Centers for Disease Control reports that smoking rates are down nationally, smoking and vaping continue to rise in Delaware, including “alarming” vaping rates among teens, according to the American Lung Association.

In a recent report, ALA Chief Mission Officer Deborah Brown noted that 16.5% of Delaware adults smoke while 20.7% of adults use tobacco including smoking or chewing tobacco.

That’s up from the 2019 ALA’s “State of Tobacco Control” report, where adult rates stood at 17 percent.

Meanwhile the high school smoking rate in Delaware is 6.2 percent but 19.4% of high school students use tobacco in some form, including smoking or chewing.

In the 2019 report, Brown lamented the missed opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation.

“Tobacco use is a serious addiction and Delaware needs to implement the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control,’” Brown said.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that smoking-related health care costs in Delaware average $532 million per year.

The CDC also states that, for every dollar spent on tobacco prevention, states can reduce tobacco-related health care expenditures and hospitalizations by up to $55. There are an estimated 34.2 million active smokers in the U.S., the CDC said.

A 2012 Division of Public Health report states that roughly 1,400 adults die each year in Delaware from smoking related illnesses.

It notes an estimated 1,700 “kids now under 18 and alive in Delaware” will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.

Grading Delaware

The American Lung Association 2019 “State of Tobacco Control” report graded Delaware on “policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”

The grades:

Funding for state tobacco prevention programs: D Strength of smoke-free workplace laws: A Level of state tobacco taxes: F Coverage and access to services to quit tobacco: B Minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21: B

While Delaware has taken significant steps to reduce tobacco use, particularly with its “21-and-up” law to purchase tobacco and related products, the report said there is a need for state officials to  increase funding for prevention and cessation programs in 2020 to end tobacco use, the youth vaping epidemic, and save lives.

Vaping on the rise

Vaping remains popular with teens, regardless of the publicly reported health risks, with data showing a significant increase in teen e-cigarette usage since 2015.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that nationally, e-cigarette use among high school students more than doubled from 11.7% in 2017 to 27.5% in 2019.

“This is a staggering 135% increase in high school e-cigarette use in just the past two years, and close to three million more kids started vaping in that time period, setting them up for a lifetime of addiction,” according to an American Lung Association report.

Nicotine from smoking or vaping

Dr. Vinay Maheshwari, vice chair of medicine at ChristianaCare, said when medical professionals talk about tobacco and tobacco-related products, the thing they’re most concerned about is the presence of nicotine in them.

Nicotine is in all direct tobacco products like cigars and cigarettes, and most of the e-cigarette brands on the market.

“[Nicotine] is one of the most addictive substances out there,” Maheshwari said. “It’s very addictive and is particularly impactful in younger children, even in young adults to the age of 25, when the brain is still developing.”

He said beyond nicotine, combusting or vaporizing both produce harmful organic compounds that have a negative impact on the user’s health, including lead, nickel, tin, and cancer-causing chemicals.

Maheshwari noted the increased instance over the past year of lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use are likely due to the solvents often used in e-cigarettes.

Teen prevention programs

Protecting teens from smoking and vaping’s lure is a priority with Delaware health officials, with the state using several programs designed to prevent teen smoking.

To further insulate teens and pre-teens from the lure of vaping, Maheshwari recommends awareness of packaging when it comes to e-cigarette products.

“Some vaping products are marketed for a younger age group, to make it appear less harmful and more attractive to [youths],” Maheshwari said. “The packaging may not even clearly state the presence of nicotine or other additives.

Teen use can also lead to a lifetime of adult use, along with all the requisite health concerns, he added.

“It’s clear that, with e-cigarette use, that if you start as a child, there is a higher instance you will go on to adult nicotine use as well,” he said.

According to Truth Initiative, a nonprofit tobacco prevention organization, Delaware received an estimated $154.7 million in revenue from tobacco settlement payments and taxes in FY2019.

Of the $154.7 million, the state allocated $6.3 million in state funds to tobacco prevention in 2019.

That’s 48.4% of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended yearly spending target for states.

Switching from smoking to vaping

Vapes and e-cigarettes have also found a place in the smoking cessation market, as former cigarette smokers use them to kick the habit completely.

At Delaware Vapor in Newark, employees noted that while their sales took a turn downwards when the 21 and up ban took effect last fall, they still see an average of five people a week looking to change over from smoking to vaping.

Despite the warnings, the illnesses, and the negative press, some people swear by vaping, with some suggesting the switch from cigarettes to vaping has changed their lives in numerous ways.

Former smoker and current vape user Skip Schepleng, 43, said that while he understands the apprehension involved with vaping and inhaling, he has seen noticeable changes since switching over two years ago.

“[I have] much more energy, [and am] down to the lowest level of nicotine in vape juice,” he said, adding that he uses a modified tank system. “My clothes don't stink, I don't spend a third of the money, and I feel 100 percent better.”