Did last month’s article on communication lead to important, possibly difficult conversations with younger members in our community? This month the CCY program collaborated with Community Health Specialist, Laure Laughlin, with Wadena County Public Health, to talk about tobacco use among young people in our community. We hope that adults are having conversations about tobacco with the young people in their lives.

The good news is overall tobacco use has trended downward the last decade. Young people generally understand that smoking is not good for us. Unfortunately, in the last few years we’ve seen a rise, specifically in youth vaping, and chewing tobacco use remains high in our county compared to the state average.

The term “vaping” is relatively new. Vaping uses an electronic cigarette or device that simulates tobacco smoking. It consists of an atomizer, a power source like a battery, and a container such as a cartridge or tank. Instead of smoke, the user inhales vapor. As such, using an e-cigarette is often called "vaping." The vapor that comes from an e-cigarette is not in fact water vapor, but a mixture of harmful chemicals and toxicants.

The 2019 MN Student Survey (MSS) reports that 11% of youth in Wadena County schools reported using chewing tobacco in the last 30 days. The 2019 MSS also reported that 23.1% of Wadena County 11th graders reported past 30 day E-cigarette use/vaping; this has increased from 7.6% in 2016. To educate our youth about the harms of e-cigarette use, the CCY program has been working with Erica Keppers, Public Health Nursing Supervisor, to provide tobacco prevention and education presentations to grades 5-12 in our area schools.

Some takeaways from these youth presentations can be used as talking points for conversations with young people including discussions about the:

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  • Negative health effects of e-cigarette use/vaping such as nicotine addiction, harm in brain development, lung injuries, and the effects of THC associated with vaping,
  • Youth Misperception of tobacco use. The perception of tobacco use among peers is higher than the actual number of people using. “Everyone’s doing it” is something we’ve all heard, but it’s important for youth to realize that it isn’t the truth. Yes, Wadena County tobacco use numbers are higher compared to the state, but correcting the misperception of use can positively influence efforts to reduce use rates. For example, 47.5% of youth in Wadena County thought their classmates used any form of tobacco in the last month, but the 2019 MN Student Survey results reported that 17.9% actually did. (Data Source: SUMN.org; 2019)

These statistics alone are eye opening enough to see that there’s room for improvement in our community; it can certainly start with talking to the young people you’re close with. With COVID-19 now a part of our lives, a strong prevention and education initiative, and MN Tobacco-21 passed this summer, we’re interested to learn how these factors affect these statistics in the future. We hope to see chewing tobacco and vaping use trend downward among youth. It all starts with caring adults who are engaged in youth’s lives, and willing to offer healthy advice.

According to the 2019 MN student survey, 80% of youth shared that parents and other adults should clearly communicate with their children about the importance of not using tobacco.

Talking with young people about tobacco

Thank you to everyone in our community, youth included, who are having those tough conversations and are committed to promoting a healthy place to live. If you have concerns regarding tobacco or any substance use, please contact your local healthcare provider. Additional resources include:

  • The CCY youth diversion program, (631-7618),
  • Wadena County Public Health, (631-7629),
  • School Counselors,
  • MN Department of Health, (www.health.stats.mn.us),
  • Or the CDC (www.cdc.gov).