GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The American Heart Association is ramping up its fight against the use of e-cigarettes and vaping. Now it’s time for a Tobacco Endgame: to eliminate tobacco and nicotine addiction in the United States.
On Thursday in Gulfport, grassroots volunteers got an education about their use and how to stop it.
“We certainly want to do whatever we can to help ensure that we're not creating another generation of tobacco-dependent people,” said Christin Leboeuf with the American Heart Association.
Part of that is to educate students, parents and people in the community and to push for changes in regulations on a state, local and national level, as well as end flavoring that is attractive to children and teens.
As principal of Biloxi Upper Elementary, Kelleigh Reynolds is on the front lines to stop the issue before it stops.
“My students are barely at the threshold when they’re being introduced to these products,” she said. “So, it’s nowhere near as widespread as the older ones, but the point being is that it is starting at a much earlier age than what people realize.”
It’s become a never-ending battle for organizations like the American Heart Association. While smoking among teens is down, the use of e-cigarettes is up - a 78% rise from 2017 to 2018.
“So, for all the gains we’ve made over 20 years in tobacco use, it’s eroding at a drastic pace because of e-cigarettes," Leboeuf said.
There are a lot of reasons: e-cigarettes are easy to get, easy to use and easy to hide.
In addition, Reynolds said e-cigarette use is more socially acceptable than smoking.
“The stigma that has been attached to cigarette use is not necessarily attached to Juuls and vaping devices,” she said.
Long Beach High School senior Alaysha Allen said it’s a difficult journey to stop the use, and it worries her.
“It definitely does worry me because if almost every kids is like this, then what are we going to do?” she said. “You know one in five teenagers are vaping nowadays. So, what’s going to happen if you can’t get these teenagers to stop being addicted?”