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Teen Smoking Survey Is A 'Mixed Bag'

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   A new survey by the Florida Department of Health shows teens aren’t smoking as much as they used to, but they are still finding a way to get nicotine.

Just under seven percent of high school students in Florida smoked cigarettes last year, according to the state Department of Health’s 18th annual Youth Tobacco Survey. That represents a 1.7% drop from 2013.

The Florida Youth Tobacco Survey has been put out since 1998, with state level results released every other year.

Shannon Hughes , director of the DOH division that conducted the survey, says the numbers are less than half of what they were when Tobacco Free Florida was launched in 2007.

“However, the use of electronic cigarettes has really gone off the charts,” Hughes said. “We’re alarmed at the rapid increase of e-cigarette use among teens.”

Nearly 16% of respondents said they used e-cigarettes last year, up from 5.4% in 2013. E-cigarettes vaporize liquid nicotine, often with added flavorings, to give an experience similar to smoking without some of the negatives from conventional cigarettes, such as odor and tar.

“We have been working for decades to de-normalize smoking,” said Hughes. “When we see a product that’s coming on the market as strong as [the e-cig] has, it threatens to normalize smoking behavior in a very broad sense.”

One of the problems with e-cigs, says Hughes, is that they can be advertised on television, in a way that was outlawed for conventional cigarettes in 1971.

Hughes says the increasing popularity in “vaping” appear to be a threat, to counter some major victories against the use of conventional tobacco products – and that’s a concern.

“We’ve been able to eliminate indoor smoking in public places – the Florida Clean Indoor Act,” said Hughes. “A lot of work has gone into making it not feel like the right thing to do. And that’s what we mean by ‘de-normalizing smoking.’”

The state Department of Health is keeping a “watchful eye” on e-cigarettes, while awaiting regulation from the Food and Drug Administration. Sales to minors were banned in Florida last year, but many retailers sell them online without verification of age.

Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong has urged federal regulators to implement measures to restrict access to minors, of e-cigarettes and other devices used to deliver liquid nicotine.