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For centuries, tobacco has been a main crop in North Carolina. A lack of soil quality and fewer plantation-style farms helped tobacco farmers thrive. An accident led to the discovery of “bright-leaf”, a form of tobacco preferred by smokers, which caused the state to begin focusing mainly on tobacco and not on other crops.

As the state developed, so too did the tobacco growing process. Large factories were built, catapulting the economy and forever branding the area for its investment in the industry. From small farms to share-cropping, family-owned factories to international companies, North Carolina’s roots in tobacco can be seen across the state in places like Durham and Winston Salem.

However, tobacco did not only bring economic growth with its surge in popularity, but also a much higher volume of NC in-state consumption than the national average. Currently, 19 percent of all adults in North Carolina smoke, versus the 17.5 percent nationwide. The numbers are just as concerning when it comes to high school students – 13.1 percent in North Carolina versus 10.8 percent nationwide.

Since the discovery of tobacco in the 17th century, the industry has come a long way. Present day, there are many different “trendy” ways to use tobacco.

Top Tobacco Trends of 2018

While the forms may change, tobacco consumption has been popular for centuries and it shows little sign of slowing down. That said, here are some of the top tobacco trends gaining popularity:

  • Hookahs: The latest use of the water vapor contraption is a small capsule, like a Nespresso cartridge, which takes the messiness out of tobacco use.
  • Additive-Free Tobacco: While this option may sound like the naturally better choice, this approach takes more time and care to produce products. This poses a problem for companies who focus on speed and cost-efficiency. However, most would argue that when it comes to this type of tobacco, the longer the process the better the product.
  • Tobacco for Oral Use: The use of smokeless tobacco is expected to increase among tobacco users as smoking bans sweep the nation. Because of the difference in regulations, Big Tobacco firms are acquiring smokeless brands throughout the country and abroad.

Aside from these trends, the historic crop has also led to the introduction and popularity of nicotine.

Nicotine, the Tobacco Alternative

Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in tobacco. When consumed, nicotine causes a rush of adrenaline and release of dopamine, acting as both a stimulant and sedative. It is not known to be cancer-causing on its own. But, when coupled with tobacco or used on its own, it results in dependency.

Nicotine has widely become a solution to quit smoking. Since increasing in popularity, cigarette smokers have dropped and smokeless tobacco users have increased. These smokeless tobacco users are consuming nicotine through chewing tobacco, replacement therapies like gum, patches, and lozenges and most commonly e-cigarettes.

Electronic Cigarettes

Hitting the U.S. market in 2006, e-cigarettes are one of the most popular smoking trends today. Sometimes referred to as “vaping”, these devices work by heating a liquid typically made up of nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals, which the user inhales as a vapor.

The CDC recently released that more than nine million adults vape regularly in the U.S.; and while this is alarming, it’s increasing popularity among the teenage demographic is causing a growing concern.

Currently, e-cigarettes are not subject to the same regulations as cigarettes. This means brands are now able to tap a younger demographic that otherwise may not have been legally allowed to purchase tobacco products. Developing cartridge flavors like mango and donuts, brands can distract teens from the fact that each cartridge can have as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

One of the most popular e-cigarettes among teens is a device known as a Juul, a particularly small e-cig, much like a USB, that can discretely fit inside one’s pocket. This has caused concern among parents and teachers about the ability of students to bring these devices into school. Many parents are concerned about the long-term effects of this trend, but the health concerns don’t stop there.  

What is the Health Impact of E-Cigarettes?

Unfortunately, much of the health ramifications of “vaping” are inconclusive. This has led to a lot of debate among the health community as well as encouraged research and discussion.

One of the biggest arguments made in support of e-cigarettes is their ability to help the 12.7 million Americans living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). One of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Almost 90 percent of those with COPD were long-time smokers and e-cigarettes provide the comfort of smoking without the smoke. While e-cigarettes are not marketed to stop smoking, it has been discussed since users can choose the amount of nicotine, if any, in their cartridge. In theory, one could wean themselves off the substance entirely.

What is Blue Cross NC doing to help?

The health of North Carolinians is at the center of all that Blue Cross NC does, and decreasing tobacco and nicotine use are no exception. We have resources readily available to help educate, make life changes and impact public change.

  • QuitlineNC: A  24/7 resource is available. Whether it is for you or someone you love, we have confidential counseling and Quit Coaches ready to support you as you strive for a tobacco-free life. Learn more.

For more information about these programs, call the number of the back of your insurance card.

 

Dr. Larry Wu

About Dr. Larry Wu

Larry Wu, MD is a regional medical director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and provides consultative services for employee health solutions, prevention, chronic disease, care management, medical expense and utilization management. He is a family physician with over 20 years in clinical practice, has served as clinic director in the Indian Health Service, Kaiser Permanente and Duke Family Medicine and currently maintains a part-time clinical practice.

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