While tobacco smoking decreased among middle school and high school students between 2017 and 2019, vaping “skyrocketed” within the same time frame, according to data presented by Elizabeth Guerrero, the former manager of the Department of Public Health and Social Services Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, and current manager for its Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
About 26.5% of high school students were vaping in 2017, which referred to the use of any electronic product. By 2019, the number jumped to 35.2%, Guerrero said at Thursday’s work group session of the Tobacco Control Action Team at the Dusit Beach Resort Guam in Tumon.
Numbers for middle school students followed a similar trend, moving from 23.5% to 34.6% by 2019.
“If you notice, middle school students are vaping at the same rate as high school students,” Guerrero added. “Remember that we have a public law. No one under 21 should be in possession or using any of these products. But look at our rates.”
Tobacco smoking among high school students fell to 11.9% in 2019 compared to 13.2% in 2017. Smoking among middle school students also fell, dropping from 10.2% in 2017 to 9.3% in 2019. But use of smokeless or chewing tobacco rose among middle school students, going from 9.9% in 2017 to 11.2% in 2019. Smokeless tobacco use fell among high school students, with the rate going from 13.5% in 2017 to 11.4% in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the study in 2021 but it is expected to be conducted again in 2023, according to Guerrero. But based on the data the team has, tobacco use among youths in general has increased, which can probably be attributed to vaping, she added.
The Tobacco Control Action Team does have a strategic plan to reduce tobacco use within Guam’s population, and the current plan is to reduce use by 20% by 2023. For example, the target for adults is to reduce smoking to 21.12% from 26.4% in 2017, the baseline year.
The team has two major objectives. The first was to amend the Natasha Protection Act to include vaping wherever smoking is prohibited.
“We met that. We met it by the signing of Public Law 35-47 back in November 2019,” Guerrero said during Thursday’s group session.
The second objective is to increase taxes on all tobacco products. For vaping products, Bill 263-36, introduced in March, proposes to establish a liquid vaping product tax and licensing requirements for the retail and wholesale distribution of electronic cigarettes. The tax would be 40% on the wholesale vaping liquid, which won’t apply to e-cigarettes sold outside of Guam or to the federal government.
Guerrero noted that Bill 263 was introduced at the request of the Guam Youth Congress.
“If this is passed, they will impose a tax on e-liquid. … So with all the policies and the goals of educating, trying to get our youth not to initiate or begin use. But if they started, to provide education and resources, as well as for our adults,” Guerrero said.
One of those resources is the Tobacco Free Guam Quitline, for which Guerrero has served as program manager. The quitline service was expanded in 2011 to include youths 11 and older.
“Today we have it available 24/7. … We have tailored counseling for the youth,” Guerrero said.
The quitline, she said, is looking at two new offerings: a program for youth who vape, and potentially a chat-based platform for counseling.
The quitline is 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). Residents also can go online to quitnow.net/guam.