Young people choosing other tobacco products over cigarettes
EVERETT - Cigarette use among young people has stabilized but other tobacco products are catching the attention of teens and young adults, which is becoming an increasing concern among health authorities.
Hookah and snus, a Swedish tobacco product similar to American chewing tobacco, are the new “in” products to use among young adults.
Nationally, cigarette purchases have declined 27 percent from 2000 to 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but non-cigarette use went up 123 percent in that same time period.
Teens tell health officials “they can use (snus) in class and the teacher doesn’t even know,” said Carrie McLachlan, Snohomish Health District healthy community program manager.
Snus packets are a lot easier to conceal than cigarettes, district healthy communities specialist Keri Moore said. Teens also think snus is safer to use, Moore said.
Snus users put a pouch of flavored tobacco in their mouth but unlike chewing tobacco they don’t need to spit. Snus originated in Sweden, but about five years ago Big Tobacco released snus products across the national market under major brands such as Marlboro and Camel.
Big Tobacco heightened its snus marketing a few years ago when cigarette use was being clamped down by tax increases and numerous state indoor smoking bans.
The comparative low cost of snus packets is playing a big part in attracting teens, Moore said. Cigarettes sell for $6 to $8 a pack in Washington, but snus sells for around $6 a packet.
The health risks of snus, snuff and dip are “much lower than cigarettes, but they are very real risks,” Snohomish Health District director and health officer Dr. Gary Goldbaum said.
Goldbaum’s highest public health concern continues to be cigarettes, little cigars and roll-your-own tobacco, he said.
About 1 in 5 Snohomish County high school seniors have smoked a cigarette, according to 2010 state figures, which are the latest available.
The cigarette use rate among high school seniors is not falling, but flat lining.
Hookah usage is up among college-age adults and teens. Hookah, also known as a waterpipe, is a long pipe to smoke flavored tobacco through a water basin.
“The hookah trend is relatively new to see an increase,” Moore said.
People are smoking hookahs at parties and hookah lounges. The first hookah bar in downtown Everett opened earlier this year.
The Snohomish Health District is negotiating with the hookah lounge to comply with the indoor smoking ban. Goldbaum could not say more on those negotiations except that it’s a due process involving multiple agencies.
“What they are doing in our opinion is not legal,” Goldbaum said.
The smoking itself is not illegal, but the hookah lounge cannot have smoking inside under the state’s Clean Air Act passed in 2005.
State health data from 2008 shows 16.4 percent of Snohomish County high school seniors have smoked from a hookah pipe in a 30-day window. In Seattle, reported hookah use among high school seniors — 22 percent — surpassed cigarette smoking.
Teens believe that because the tobacco goes through water, it is safer, McLachlan said. Hookah, though, carries the same health risk as cigarettes, Goldbaum said.
There is an eightfold greater risk that hookah users will try a cigarette, Moore said.
Big Tobacco doesn’t sell hookah products. These products are found in small shops that sell glass pipes and other drug paraphernalia called head shops.
Goldbaum sees teens switching to non-cigarette tobacco as a silver lining in the cloud of smoke.
“I think it reflects a bit of success. Society has made it clear smoking is not socially acceptable,” Goldbaum said. If teens are staying away from cigarettes, they are less likely to be influenced to use them, Goldbaum said.
“It’s a mixed blessing, the message on smoking is out,” Goldbaum said.
The new tobacco product
Moore’s latest concern is Camel Orbs, which are dissolvable nicotine pellets. Some health authorities, including Goldbaum, fear kids could confuse the pellets as candy. R.J. Reynolds is test-marketing them in Oregon.
A joint study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard School of Medicine found Orbs release a much higher dose of “straight” nicotine than cigarettes.
R.J. Reynolds also sells dissolvable nicotine sticks and mouth strips.
Moore said she’s not seeing teens gravitating toward electronic cigarettes, which release nicotine-enhanced water vapor. E-cigarettes are marketed both as a tobacco quitting product and a safer alternative to cigarettes that can be used anywhere.
There’s probably a cost barrier for teens to take up e-cigarettes, Moore said. Most e-cigarettes cost more than $20 to get started with a stick and nicotine capsules.
The state’s tobacco quit line is 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
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