Colorado Springs was recently included in the top three “Best Places to Live” ranking by U.S. News & World Report magazine. We attract students and professionals to our great city with low unemployment rates, nationally ranked colleges and booming construction of quality schools, parks, recreation and entertainment facilities.
But for being one of the best cities in the country, we still have work to do to improve the health of our young people. Our El Paso region has one of the highest rates of teen electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, use in the state, with over 44% of our students reporting having ever used an electronic vaping product in the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. And over a quarter of students reporting having smoked cigarettes, e-vapor products or used other tobacco products on one or more of the past 30 days.
Colorado Springs is not alone in this crisis. As has been widely reported in the news, Colorado currently leads the country in terms of teenage rates of e-cigarette use, and across the country e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States.
In 2018, President Trump’s appointee for the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, published a vaping advisory to address the recent surge in e-cigarette use among youth; in fact, he called it an epidemic.
What many young people don’t know is that an e-cigarette pod can contain as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes, and we know that nicotine is not only addictive and toxic, but it also has a negative impact on the developing brain. Research shows that by adulthood, teen nicotine users have lower cognitive function, more impulsivity and shorter attention spans. They have more depression and anxiety. And teens who begin smoking by using e-cigarettes are more likely to become cigarette smokers, leading to a lifetime of addiction.
Despite epidemic-levels of e-cigarette use among teens in our state, we currently do not impose any tax on these products. Today in Colorado, a pack of cigarettes costs about $5.60 and an equivalent amount of liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes is sold for about $1.
The single most effective way we can discourage teen smoking and vaping use is to raise the price of nicotine products. That’s why Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs and Peak Vista Community Health Centers have joined Gov. Jared Polis, Healthier Colorado and many more business, health and education leaders in the state to support House Bill 1333, a proposal that would ask Colorado voters to approve an increase in the taxes on cigarettes, other tobacco products like cigars and chewing tobacco, and apply an equivalent tax the nicotine used in vaping.
Not only will HB 1333 help address the skyrocketing numbers of teens who are vaping in our community and decrease overall smoking rates, but it would also lead to reductions in the costly financial burden that all Coloradans must bear because of smoking-related illnesses each year. Taxpayers and businesses currently absorb $1.89 billion annually in healthcare costs directly caused by smoking. To put that further into perspective, Colorado residents’ state and federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures exceeds $650 per household.
Since most smoking-related diseases take years to develop, health care cost savings will continue to grow over time. And since lower-income people are a proportionally large percentage of smokers in Colorado, smoking reductions could lower avoidable state Medicaid program expenditures significantly.
Once passed by voters, half of the $317 million in anticipated revenue would be reinvested into programs to reduce smoking and facilitate stronger protective factors that will prevent youth use of tobacco and nicotine products. These proven, evidence-based programs prevent kids from getting hooked, help adults quit smoking and aid communities that have been historically targeted by tobacco companies.
The measure would also drive major new investments in child and youth mental health, including suicide prevention, school-based programs to provide mental health services, crisis response services and care for children, and youth with serious behavioral needs.
With only a few days left in the legislative session, the time is now to tackle the teen vaping epidemic and help curb youth smoking. That’s why we strongly urge our local state legislators to support HB 1333 to keep a new generation of our kids from becoming addicted to tobacco and nicotine products, while also lowering Colorado’s health care costs associated with smoking in the long run.
Join us in our efforts to combat youth vaping and tobacco use in Colorado and take action today by emailing your state lawmaker to urge their support of House Bill 1333.
Margaret Sabin is president of Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs, and Darvi Rahaman, MD, pediatrician and vice president of Medical Services at Peak Vista Community Health Centers.