NJ’s largest collaborative effort leads the charge to reduce youth tobacco and vaping use
Despite New Jersey having strong tobacco control policies and laws, tobacco use is still very prominent among our youth.
Electronic cigarettes and vaping are the younger generations’ go-to tobacco products.
Eric Kakauridze, programs supervisor for Tobacco Free for a Healthy New Jersey — the state’s largest collaborative effort to reduce the health consequences of tobacco use, vaping, and secondhand smoke — said adolescents and teens are very impressionable people.
While it is illegal to sell flavored e-cig products in New Jersey, they are still heavily marketed and advertised, which draws kids. With all the flavors available, kids are prone to experimentation.
In 2019 in New Jersey, 1 in 4 high school students used an electronic vapor product at least once in the past 30 days, he said, citing a 2018 youth tobacco survey. It also found that 4 in 10 New Jersey high school students used at least one tobacco product within 30 days.
“According to the National Tobacco Survey from 2019, about 6.2 million U.S. middle or high school students were current or past 30-day users of some type of tobacco product. But e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product by youth in New Jersey, Kakauridze said.
The goal of Tobacco Free for a Healthy New Jersey is to promote healthier lifestyles and for people to live health-free without the consequences of tobacco use or secondhand smoke from tobacco use.
The organization is leading the charge to reduce tobacco use by educating younger groups to create a more informed population and assisting smokers transition into a smoke-free lifestyle.
“Our final big purpose is to help those who do smoke or vape to stop. So, we provide multiple cessation tools for people to utilize,” he added.
They do this through virtual or in-person counseling and 11 Quit Centers across the state, which offer free nicotine replacement therapy, an FDA-approved cessation product, he said.
The Quit Centers are located in Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, Hudson, Essex, Mercer, Union, Middlesex, Atlantic, Cumberland and Cape May counties.
They allow smokers to access counseling and resources to stop or reduce the use of all tobacco products.
Kakauridze said if a smoker does not have a Quit Center in the county where he or she lives, don’t worry. They can visit a Quit Center in a neighboring county to get help quitting.
A full list of the states’ 11 Quit Centers can be found here.
TFHNJ also recently developed a point-of-sale audit tool to gather data about the landscape of the retail environment and measure how the state laws and local policies are being followed.
The Point-of-Sale Initiative sends TFHNJ members to retailers to make sure they abide by the state laws set in place and that make sure they are well-educated as to why this process is happening.
“If retailers don’t sell to young kids, the young kids won’t be able to acquire these products, so we’re really working to educate them on those state policies and improving compliance with the state policies,” Kakauridze said.
TFNJ is also looking to recruit youth members who are looking to advocate for tobacco prevention throughout the state of New Jersey. Interested high-schoolers can educate themselves on the dangers of e-cigarettes and tobacco products, then, in turn, educate their peers on the issues.
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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