The New Jersey Department of Health is investing nearly $7 million in new projects to fight smoking and e-cigarette “vaping” among youth, the department announced Wednesday.
These efforts include an education campaign to warn teens and young adults about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other electronic “vaping” devices that allow users to inhale highly addictive flavored nicotine vapor.
The $6.7 million in new projects will include the formation of “Youth Action Teams” to reduce smoking and vaping among their peers in school.
“Every year, smoking kills more Americans than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, homicides and suicides combined. These deaths are preventable,” Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said.
“Tomorrow is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smoke Out, a campaign to encourage all smokers to pledge to quit and spread the word about the dangers of smoking.” This initiative offers individuals a first step toward a healthier lifestyle by reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other illnesses associated with smoking, he said.
The funds are dedicated to these projects through 2017 legislation mandating that 1-percent of the combined revenues from taxes on cigarettes, e-cigarettes and wholesale tobacco products be automatically dedicated to the Department of Health to fund to anti-smoking and cessation programs.
“Engaging our youth and young adults in this education campaign is crucial,” said Commissioner Elnahal, noting that electronic smoking devices pose a major health risk because of nicotine addiction and are increasingly popular among the young.
The New Jersey Prevention Network (NJPN) was awarded $2 million to launch a new e-cigarette public awareness campaign and engage youth in all 21 counties to educate their peers and communities about the risks of tobacco and electronic smoking devices. NJPN will establish county and regional Youth Action Teams to create and support school or community initiatives to reduce tobacco use among teens. They will work to expand health messaging and revise school policies.
NJPN will use $400,000 to promote smoking and vaping prevention and cessation policies in workplaces that employ a large number of young adults. Another $300,000 will be used to enhance smoke-free policies on college and university campuses.
The projects include $1,980,000 in funding for 11 regional “quit centers” to implement individual and group counseling, provide nicotine replacement therapies and support people who want to recover from their nicotine addiction. These centers will target their efforts in counties with the highest incidence of lung and bronchial cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and heart disease. These quit centers will be operated by RWJ Barnabas Institute for Prevention & Recovery in Essex, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Union counties; Hackensack Meridian Health in Passaic and Hudson counties; Inspira Health Network serving Cumberland and Salem counties; Atlantic Prevention Resources in Atlantic County, and Cape Assist in Cape May County.
As part of the funding, NJ Quitline (1-866-657-8677), a telephone-counseling service, will implement electronic referrals for smokers who want to quit.
While New Jersey thankfully has seen a drop in cigarette smoking rates over the past decade, e-cigarette use has increased significantly. Last month, tobacco giant Altria announced it will stop selling e-cigarette pods and pull most of its flavored products from the market in an effort to curb teen vaping. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been stepping up enforcement on e-cigarette manufacturers.
Commissioner Elnahal met with New Jersey colleges and universities this summer to review smoke-free policies. Statewide, 15 of 19 community colleges are 100-percent smoke-free. Of major colleges and universities, only St. Peter’s University in Jersey City is 100 percent smoke-free, although 24 others have campus-wide rules to strictly limit smoking areas.
Smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans a year, 11,800 of them in New Jersey, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2016, there were about 38 million smokers in the U.S., about 16 percent of the adult population. Of those, three of every four adults smoked every day.
According to 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data, New Jersey is below the national trend with an adult smoking rate of 14 percent.
A “Youth Tobacco Survey” of New Jersey public high school students in the 2016-17 school year found e-cigarettes had become the most common nicotine or tobacco product in use among this group.
About 21 percent said they had tried e-cigarettes, compared with 17.4 percent for cigarettes, 17.2 percent for cigars and 15.9 percent for hookah pipe tobacco. Overall, 39 percent said they had tried a tobacco product and 16.8 percent said they were regular users.
New Jersey has taken strong steps to protect the public from the harmful effects of tobacco.
In July, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law banning smoking at public beaches and parks. That same month, new steps were announced to help New Jersey Medicaid recipients quit by making it easier to receive tobacco cessation medications and counseling. Medicaid will remove the requirement that individuals need prior approval from their health plan before they obtain tobacco cessation medications. In January, Medicaid will add group counseling for tobacco cessation to services it covers.
Last November, New Jersey raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 19 to 21. This covered the sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and other electronic smoking products. In 2006, New Jersey became the 11th state to pass the Smoke Free Air Act prohibiting smoking in public buildings. In 2010, it became the first state to add electronic tobacco products to that law.
The Department also implements the Tobacco Age of Sale Enforcement program, a federally mandated inspection program administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Every year from July 1 through Sept. 30, tobacco inspectors conduct random, unannounced checks of licensed retail tobacco vendors to ensure they are not selling tobacco to people under 21. There is also an additional statewide inspection program, through the FDA, that conducts 5,000 random, unannounced inspections throughout the year.