ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida excels at many things, like beautiful beaches and a good quality of life, but one thing we fall short on is smoking. 

The American Lung Association released their annual “state of tobacco control” report today, and Florida is in the doghouse.

The state is behind in efforts to reduce smoking, especially among younger generations. 

The grade from the American Lung Association: "F." And that "F" is not for “Florida" -- it is F as in "Fail."

The grade was based off a couple of factors:

  • Lack of tobacco prevention and resources for quitting smoking
  • Lower taxes on tobacco products compared to other states
  • And a legal smoking age of 18 compared to the suggested 21

The American Lung Association also targeted the Food and Drug Administration for not taking stronger action to stop e-cigarette and tobacco use by teens.

We reached out to the FDA and they responded:

"The FDA remains fully committed to significantly reducing tobacco-related disease and death and has made tremendous progress on this front through our comprehensive plan on tobacco and nicotine regulation – with ambitious public health goals for 2019. In the last year alone, the agency has advanced work to render cigarettes minimally or non-addictive, announced historic plans to ban menthol in cigarettes and cigars, and is exploring additional product standards.‎ The FDA in recent months has also taken an escalating series of unprecedented actions to stop youth use of tobacco products, especially e-cigarettes, advanced policies to increase access to, and use of, medicinal nicotine products to help people quit smoking, and has launched several adult and youth-focused tobacco public education prevention and cessation campaigns."

Smoking has gone up a lot among young people. In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that vaping by high school students had increased by 78 percent. That means 3.6 million students are using e-cigarettes.

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Senior Almir Hrnjic says he sees kids vaping at school. "I always see kids in the bathroom hitting juuls and all that stuff. I mean, kids talk about it to around the hallways and stuff. It's not really like a private thing or anything.”  

When we asked students at Northeast High School how many of their peers vape, nearly all of them said the same thing. 

Gary Schultz said, "Kids in the high school, at least 50 percent. At least 50 to 60 percent have them. Not even kids that are supposed to have them. Mostly the younger kids I’d say.”  

Isaiah Millstein said the same. “At least 50 percent juul on the regular like they keep it with them.”

As did Kevin Kirton “Oh like at least half. At least half. I am 100 percent confident.”

And the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

“I think it just started as one cool kid who started doing it. And then it just sort of became a bigger thing over time. It’s just a rebellious thing I think, a general rebellious thing. It’s a new thing, and kids just want to do that,” said Kirton.

And the implications of e-cigs are just beginning to be understood.

“It’s an early product like the years haven’t been by, like the cigarettes have been by for us to know about what happens,” said Millstein. “We’ve seen what’s happened with people’s lungs but we haven’t seen whats happened with vapes because they are just coming out in the past five, six years.”   

And that’s also because there has been little research around these fairly new products.  

The American Lung Association has even pointed that out, saying in part that effects still need to be determined.

“While much remains to be determined about the lasting health consequences of e-cigarettes, there’s evolving evidence about the health risks of e-cigarettes on the lungs — including irreversible lung damage and lung disease," the association said. "The American Lung Association is very concerned that we are at risk of losing another generation to tobacco-caused diseases as the result of e-cigarettes.”

But one thing that is clear: nicotine harms a developing brain, and our brains continue to develop through age 25.

And potentially the biggest concern and side-effect of vaping is developing “popcorn lung.”

The medical condition causes scarring and narrowing of lung tissues and airways. There is no cure, the damage is irreversible, and it is considered life-threatening. 

One of the causes of popcorn lung is inhaling diacetyl, a chemical that used to be in popcorn to make its taste richer and more buttery. But, after the connection was discovered, most popcorn producers stopped using the chemical.

And now, many e-cig brands use diaectyl in their pods.

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