Kids' Use of E-cigs Triples; Anti-Texting Laws Drive Down Crash Injuries & Measles Case in St. Lucie

Use of electronic cigarettes by teens and preteens has surged 300 percent during the last 12 months, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The news comes at a time when health and policy officials have issued warnings about the health risks of e-cigarettes.

The number of high school students who said they smoked e-cigarettes spiked to 13.4 percent in 2014 from 4.5 percent in 2013, according to findings published in the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey. For high school students, the percentages represent a sharp increase from about 660,000 e-cigarette smokers to 2 million smokers in a 12-month period.

A similar trend is evident in middle school students with e-cigarette usage jumping to 3.9 percent in 2014 up from 1.1 percent in 2013 — a climb from 120,000 middle school students in 2013 to 450,000 in 2014. The survey targets a 30-day period and asks students if they had smoked an e-cigarette at least once during that period. Study results put the spotlight on the addition of fruit and candy flavors to e-cigarettes. Industry critics argue that the addition of specialty flavors is an ardent attempt to attract business from teens and preteens.

“In today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace, the surge in youth use of novel products like e-cigarettes forces us to confront the reality that the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “These staggering increases in such a short time underscore why FDA intends to regulate these additional products to protect public health.”

A full report and additional news about secondhand smoke and e-vapors will appear on this blog on Tuesday, April 22.

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–Sharon Harvey Rosenberg

Anti-Texting Laws Driving Down Car-Crash Injuries, Study Finds

Many U.S. states now have bans on texting while driving, with some actually have the enforcement authority to stop a motorist if police suspect texting is going on.

A new study suggests that the toughest texting-while-driving bans are having a positive effect, by helping to reduce serious injuries from car accidents.

Researchers found that car-crash hospitalizations dipped in states that instituted strict bans on texting and driving between 2003 and 2010. Overall, the hospitalization rate in those states declined by 7 percent versus states with no bans, according to findings published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The findings do not actually prove that texting bans caused the reduction in hospitalizations, says study leader Alva Ferdinand, an assistant professor at Texas A&M School of Public Health. But she said that her team ruled out other factors that could account for decline — such as laws on speeding, drunk driving, handheld cellphones and teen driving restrictions. After taking those factors into consideration, texting bans were still strongly associated with the decline in hospitalizations for traffic accidents, her team found.

Florida’s anti-texting law took effect on October 1, 2013. It makes texting while driving a secondary offense. Drivers pulled over for speeding, for example, may be charged with a texting offense, if the officer witnesses them texting on their phone.

However, the study found that states with even tougher anti-texting laws had the biggest impact on public safety. In those states, the texting prohibitions are “primarily enforced.” That’s when police officers can pull drivers if they just have a suspicion of texting.

“Some states have secondary enforcement,” Ferdinand explained. “In those states, law enforcement has to catch you doing something else first — like speeding or running a red light — and then determine that you were texting.”

Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy for the AAA, agreed, telling HealthDay. “The more data we have showing benefits, the better,” said Nelson. Since this study focused on hospitalization rates only, he added, “the results are probably a conservative estimate of the full impact of texting bans.”

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— John Fernandez

Measles Cases in Florida 

A 6-year old in St. Lucie County has come down with measles, according to the Florida Department of Health. The announcement comes on the heels of the Department’s report last month about a measles case in an international traveler in Florida.

State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong urges state resident to get immunized.

“I encourage all residents and visitors to protect themselves, their families and their communities by getting vaccinated,” Dr. Armstrong said. “Measles is a very serious disease, yet thankfully, we have a safe and proven method to prevent measles through vaccination.”

St. Lucie County health officials are working closely with other state and local officials to “limit any potential exposure and protect” local residents from the spread of the disease. In late March, the Florida Department of Health confirmed that there has been one case of measles in an international adult traveler in Miami, Orlando and other parts of the state during March.

The Department also reminds residents that those “who are fully immunized have very little risk of developing measles.”  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend vaccinations against 16 diseases, including measles.

Measles is a “highly contagious,” air-borne disease, which means it is spread from person-to-person through the air by breathing, sneezing or coughing.

Globally, there has been a surge in measles outbreaks since January 2014. So far in 2015 — Jan. 1 though April 10, reported measles cases include 159 people from 18 states. About 75 percent of the cases (117) are linked to an outbreak connected to a California amusement park.

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–Tanya Racoobian Walton  

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