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Midlands Voices: Nebraska's efforts against nicotine boost public health

Midlands Voices: Nebraska's efforts against nicotine boost public health

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Tobacco looks different today than the 1950s, but in some ways it isn’t different. For example, smoking was allowed on airplanes and in restaurants. Now that’s not the case; however, e-cigarettes, vapes and electronic nicotine delivery systems, or ENDS, have become the most used products among our youth according to the U.S. surgeon general.

Vaping and using ENDS exposes the user and the people around them to nicotine, volatile organic compounds, ultrafine particles, cancer-causing chemicals, flavorings and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead found in secondhand aerosol.

Although great strides have been made in tobacco prevention, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death, impacting the health and economic well-being of our community and loved ones. With youth who use e-cigarettes also four times more likely to smoke cigarettes than peers who do not vape, and with 31.7% of Nebraska’s youth reporting they have used a vape/ENDS, it is urgent we continue to work toward a nicotine-free generation! The state Department of Health and Human Resources has relevant reports and additional information online.

The 2020 Nebraska legislative session brought hope aimed at tobacco prevention, as state senators passed and Gov. Ricketts signed Legislative Bill 840 and LB 1064.

LB 840, which takes effect Saturday, will expand the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act to include electronic smoking devices. It prohibits their use in a place of employment or public places, with the exception of “electronic smoking device retail outlets.” The measure strengthens Nebraska’s indoor air quality while protecting employees and patrons against secondhand aerosols from vaping. Nebraska is the 20th state to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in existing state smoke-free provisions.

LB 1064 increased the minimum age to use and purchase cigarettes, cigars, ENDS, alternative nicotine products and tobacco products to 21 years of age. This went into effect on Oct. 1, making Nebraska the 33rd state to raise the minimum age to 21. The increase in minimum age will also make Nebraska state law consistent with federal statute, decrease confusion for retailers and provide a consistent age requirement for local and federal compliance checks.

The Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition (MOTAC) supports business owners, multi-unit housing owners and managers with resources for creating strong tobacco policies and helping people connect with quitting services. The public can visit our website and search for smoke-free housing properties.

With the mission of youth prevention, MOTAC has youth educational programming, and we collaborate with community members to educate for a cleaner, smoke-free community. We assist with retail compliance checks in collaboration with the Omaha Police Department to prevent the sale of tobacco products to underage youth. In addition, we work to promote the reduction of tobacco advertising.

MOTAC is ready to help businesses implement LB 840 with a free policy review, signage, messaging and tips for handling questions and complaints. In addition to current policy, we encourage and support establishments that extend their prohibition policy to patios and open spaces. You can find resources on MOTAC.org.

LB 840 and LB 1064 will reduce exposure to secondhand smoke or secondhand aerosol and discourage youth from using nicotine products. Our coalition is here to support our Douglas County community in making the places we live, work and play tobacco-, nicotine-, secondhand smoke- and aerosol-free!

The tobacco industry not only continues to evolve but also continues to target youth and harm members of our community. MOTAC continues to work toward the vision “that youth, adults, business and policy-makers will lead change to embrace a nicotine-free community.”

Lucia Rodriguez Alvizo, submitted this essay on behalf of the Metro Omaha Tobacco Coalition. She is coordinator for that organization, online at www.MOTAC.org and on Facebook and Twitter @MOTAC.

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