Health groups concerned about tobacco, tanning

By Megan Henry - The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS — After an outbreak of vaping-related illness last year, at least two health advocacy groups in Ohio are focused on decreasing smoking in 2020.

The advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society wants Ohio lawmakers to increase the state health department’s tobacco prevention and cessation funding from $12 million a year to $35 million annually, said Jeff Stephens, the cancer society’s director of government relations in Ohio.

“We need to get some blocking and tackling done in Ohio, and one of the first things we need to do is increase our prevention and investment into cessation programs,” Stephens said.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network also wants state legislators to ban Ohio teens under 18 from using indoor tanning beds because of cancer risks.

If the smoking cessation program funding is expanded, an estimated 10,620 fewer children would become addicted adult smokers and 3,640 fewer kids would prematurely die from smoking, Stephens said.

About 21% of Ohio adults smoke, according to 2017 data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ohio, like much of the nation, is in the middle of an e-cigarette epidemic, Stephens said.

“We want to do everything we can to prevent our youth from a lifetime of addiction,” he said. “This epidemic we’ve seen of e-cigarette use among our youth is head-shaking.”

There have been 60 deaths and 2,668 people hospitalized nationwide due to lung injury cases associated with the use of e-cigarettes as of Jan. 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been 96 lung illnesses and 88 hospitalizations linked to vaping in Ohio as of Thursday, including 12 in Franklin County, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The median age is 25 years old.

It’s unclear how the condition develops or why, but in the most severe and life-threatening cases, it causes the lungs to stop functioning altogether.

“Unfortunately, (vaping is) the attractive thing that’s initiating our youth into that lifetime of addiction,” Stephens said.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center recently launched a new hotline to help people quit vaping. The number is 614-366-VAPE (8273).

Callers will have to answer a series of triage questions about any symptoms they’re experiencing related to their e-cigarette use, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness.

If they have any symptoms, they can either be scheduled to see their primary care physician at OSU Wexner Medical Center or be referred to an OSU pulmonologist if their primary care doctor is at another practice. They’ll later undergo a physical exam and chest X-ray.

If individuals want to quit but don’t have any symptoms, they will skip the initial screening and be referred directly to a smoking cessation clinic.

Health Policy Institute of Ohio is also focused on tobacco and e-cigarette usage as part of its advocacy.

“Adults who are still smoking need a lot of help to quit,” said Amy Bush Stevens, HPIO’s vice president of prevention and public health policy. “Just giving someone a pamphlet and telling them to quit is probably not going to be enough, so making sure that there is intensive, tailored cessation help is very important.”

In addition to tackling the issue of tobacco use, the cancer society supports House Bill 329, which would prohibit tanning services for those under 18.

Between formal high school dances and spring break, tanning is popular among many teenage girls, Stephens said.

One indoor tanning session before age 35 increases a person’s risk of melanoma by 75%, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Prohibiting indoor tanning among such youths nationwide could prevent an estimated 61,839 melanoma cases, 6,735 melanoma deaths and save $342.9 million in treatment costs, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in February 2017.

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society said about 100,350 new melanoma cases will be diagnosed and 6,850 people are expected to die of the disease this year.

“There seems to be a cultural phenomenon where high school girls are using these a lot to tan,” Stephens said. “We just want to support the flat-out ban for those under 18.”

By Megan Henry

The Columbus Dispatch

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