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By Taylor Knopf
While cigarette smoking has decreased among young people, the use of electronic cigarettes is rising.
In response, North Carolina lawmakers filed House Bill 276 on Wednesday, which would put $17 million a year toward preventing young people from using “new and emerging tobacco products.”
Primary bill sponsor Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican, said it’s a “pay now or pay more later” situation.
North Carolina spends $3.81 billion in annual healthcare costs caused by smoking, he said. The state is hit by an additional $4.24 billion in smoking-related productivity losses each year, he claimed.
“Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable deaths in our state,” Lambeth said in a press conference at the General Assembly on Wednesday. “Let’s invest $17 million and prevent 180,000 young people from dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases.”
The money would come out of the state’s general fund, which Lambeth said receives $140 million each year from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement signed in 1999. States receive settlement fees from cigarette manufacturers to reimburse them for Medicaid money spent treating smoking-related illnesses.
North Carolina funded the Tobacco. Reality. Unfiltered. teen smoking prevention program with this same amount of money from 2001 to 2012 through the now-defunct Health and Wellness Trust Fund. When the fund was eliminated in 2012, so was the program.
2015 data from the Youth Tobacco Survey show about 13 percent of North Carolina high school students smoke traditional cigarettes while 29 percent use e-cigarettes. That’s up from only 7.7. percent of high school students who were using e-cigarettes in 2013.
Andrea Boakye,a 20-year-old representative with Youth Empowered Solutions who spoke at the press conference, said that young people are not educated on the dangers or alternative smoking products.
“My generation is being misinformed about the nicotine and tobacco presences in hookah, e-cigarettes, vapes and other similar nicotine delivery products,” she said. “Vaping is seen as a healthier alternative to smoking. It’s not.”
Boakye added that her generation is also being targeted by “heavy advertisements and child-like flavors that attract a young crowd.”