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Bipartisan group of NC Reps introduce bill to prevent youth access to nicotine

A UNC student vapes at Polk Place on Wednesday, April 5, 2023.

House Bill 543, which aims to reduce youth dependency on nicotine, was moved to the N.C. House rules committee on April 3. If passed, the bill will become effective on July 1, 2023.

Named the “Youth End Nicotine Dependence Act,” or “Youth END Act,” H.B. 543 would establish the Tobacco Use Prevention Fund to study and prevent youth access to and dependence on tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes.

While electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration considers them tobacco products.

N.C. Rep. Maria Cervania (D-Wake), a primary sponsor of the bill, said she wants to increase awareness of the use of tobacco in the state and research its effect on public health.

“It just surprised me that even though over the past 20 years we've had the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, we haven't spent hardly any money to help any of the use or misuse of tobacco, and now vaping,” Cervania said.

In North Carolina, 27.3 percent of youth use tobacco products, according to the bill.

The legislation would aim to prevent the use of emerging tobacco products and e-cigarettes, as well as track tobacco use and exposure among young people and others most at risk for tobacco use.

In a tobacco use report by the American Lung Association released on Jan. 24, 2023, North Carolina received an “F” grade in all categories: funding for state tobacco prevention programs, strength of smoke-free air laws, level of state tax on tobacco products, access to cessation services and restrictions on flavored tobacco products.

“Tobacco has really harmful effects on the lungs and contains a lot of toxic chemicals,” UNC nursing student Nicole Mercer said. “This bill is really important because tobacco is currently too accessible to teenagers, which promotes its use, and so with more regulation it will be less accessible and hopefully, less used.”

Since 2011, the use of electronic cigarettes among high school students in North Carolina has risen by 1,129 percent, the bill states.

Popular e-cigarette manufacturer Juul recently had to pay $439 million in a settlement over marketing to teens. The company had purchased advertising space on sites geared toward children and trends, such as Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Seventeen magazine.

“Juuls, or vaping, or electronic cigarettes are so relatively new, we still need to do more research on how this is affecting not only youth, but every person who partakes in it,” Cervania said.

The Tobacco Use Prevention Fund would finance evidence-based education campaigns about the health risks of tobacco and provide technical assistance and oversight of regional tobacco use prevention programs. 

It would use money that the state receives every year from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

The agreement states that the tobacco industry must pay the settling states every year to fund tobacco use prevention programs, and heavily restricts the tobacco industry’s advertising and marketing capabilities. It was established in 1998 between the attorneys general of 46 states, five U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and four large cigarette manufacturers in the U.S.

Under the MSA, restrictions are placed on targeting youth, product placement in media, outdoor advertisements, branded merchandise, sponsorships and free product samples. North Carolina receives $140 million from this agreement every year.

UNC sophomore Mya Manivanh said she thinks that H.B. 543 would be a useful first step, but it should not be a current priority in the General Assembly.

“There are bigger pressing issues rather than just nicotine as we've seen, like recent overdose deaths due to fentanyl and things like that,” Manivanh said.

@DTHCityState | 

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