Kids are sneaking hits from it in school bathrooms. Students younger than eighth grade are trying it. Kids are selling their belongings to buy it. Wisconsin is the epicenter of the e-cigarette epidemic.

We are at a critical time in the fight against tobacco products. After years of declining rates of teenagers smoking cigarettes, we are witnessing an alarming increase in the use of the next generation of nicotine products: e-cigarettes. These are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine-containing liquid to produce an aerosol that you inhale.

In Wisconsin, teen e-cigarette use has skyrocketed. In 2012, it was just 1.9%. In 2018, it’s up to 20% or one in every five high school students. Vaping (or JUULing named after JUUL, the leading e-cigarette brand) is taking off, in part, because teens can smoke candy or fruit-flavored nicotine pods in e-cigarettes.

But the term “vaping” is a misnomer, since it leads you to believe that you are only inhaling water vapor, when you are inhaling something much more sinister. The rise of a “new” lung disease among young e-cigarette users is particularly alarming. E-cigarettes not only contain highly addictive nicotine but can also include toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and lung disease.

Our brains are still developing when we’re in high school. Nicotine has a negative effect on brain development and a single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes. For kids, this high exposure to nicotine makes us even more susceptible to nicotine addiction and sets up a risk for lifelong addiction to tobacco products. Add in the other toxic chemicals, and our kids are facing a lifetime of unnecessary health risks.

Using e-cigarettes is a dangerous habit among teens and threatens to reverse the decades-long progress that has been made in reducing youth tobacco use. But there are ways we can stop the vaping epidemic.

We must all support strong and effective policies proven to decrease the rate of tobacco use. Right now, there is a bill in the state Capitol that would raise the minimum sale age of all tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old. Known as Tobacco 21, this policy would reduce the number of high school kids who can legally purchase these products for themselves and their younger friends. Eighteen states and at least 480 municipalities across the country have passed Tobacco 21, which has been proven effective in lowering youth tobacco rates. This legislation not only applies to e-cigarettes but also regular cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigarillos and other tobacco products.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the country, taking more than 7,900 Wisconsin lives a year. With your support, we can turn the tide on the e-cigarette epidemic and stop the harm being done to our kids.

You can help stop this epidemic. Join us in supporting a strong, comprehensive Tobacco 21 policy in Wisconsin. Visit YoureTheCure.org/WIRaiseTheAge to sign up.

Dr. Anoop K. Singh is board president of the American Heart Association—Milwaukee and director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Dr. J. Carter Ralphe is board member of the American Heart Association—Madison and chief of Pediatric Cardiology at American Family Children’s Hospital.

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