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Tobacco & Smoking Still An Issue In Upper Cumberland Youth

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Tobacco & Smoking Still An Issue In Upper Cumberland Youth

Local Addiction experts say tobacco and cigarette use is still a major issue in the Upper Cumberland, even with the rise of vapes and e-cigarettes.

This comes on the heels of a Master Settlement between the state and major tobacco companies that restricts youth marketing of tobacco products, tobacco brand-name merchandise, and tobacco product-sponsored entertainment and sporting events. Power of Putnam Prevention Coordinator Alec Nelson said according to a student survey from 2023, the age of initiation with cigarettes in Putnam County sits at 13 years old.

“We do still see tobacco as a issue,” Nelson said. “And it’s an evolving issue that we’ve noticed over the last couple of years, especially with the new introduction of vapes.”

Nelson said though tobacco and cigarettes are still common in youth, the popularity of vapes has exploded because of the low perception of risk. He said though there is little data to show the long-term effects, they could still cause major health dangers later in life. He said Power of Putnam goes into schools regularly to educate students on these potential risks and provide refusal skills.

“We do find that access is easier the older they get, just because they are more popular,” Nelson said. “At least in our county, and I would safely say most of the state.”

He said in Putnam County specifically, chewing tobacco is not particularly common, but much like the way vaping products have become favorable over cigarettes, there has been a rise in the use of a product called Zyn, a nicotine pouch with similar effects to dip or chewing tobacco. He said big tobacco companies relentlessly market these products to the youth with flashy colors and the use of famous athletes as spokespeople.

“Zyns are also targetted toward the younger generations, just with big tobacco needing that younger generation to, I mean, they need to get their money,” Nelson said. “And they market vapes and these Zyns as quitting tactics for the older people who use cigarettes and chewing tobacco.”

Nelson said Power of Putnam has a vaping intervention program in partnership with the Putnam County Health Department. He said the four-week program helps students who get caught with vapes learn the dangers of the addictive chemicals within. He said whether it’s the growing popularity of the discreet tobacco alternatives or the same cigarettes that have plagued public health for generations, the issue persists.


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