BRUNSWICK — In June, nearly 2,000 cyclists will gather in Brunswick for the three-day Trek Across Maine, one of the premier fundraising events for the American Lung Association. Pedaling for nearly 200 miles, Trekkers will build on a tradition that has raised more than $24 million for lung research and advocacy over the 34-year history of the Trek Across Maine.

Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, where I serve as president and CEO, is proud to do its part. This year will mark our cycling team’s 13th involvement in the Trek. Since 2006, dozens of Mid Coast employees have come together to raise more than $125,000 for a good cause, while dedicating their time and effort for days at a time.

At Mid Coast, we see the devastating consequences of tobacco use firsthand. Many of our patients are current or former smokers who come to us in desperate need of treatment for lung disease and other deadly side effects of smoking. We value our partnership with the American Lung Association to help us identify best practices in preventing and treating tobacco-related diseases.

Both of my parents died of lung disease because of cigarette smoking, so the lung association’s work is personal and especially important to me. I know that nicotine addiction is tough to quit, and I know the impact of lung disease on a family.

As the use of e-cigarettes skyrockets in Maine, we rely on the lung association’s evidence-based research, advocacy and funding to help protect our youth. Between 2017 and 2018, the percentage of high school seniors who reported vaping nicotine rose from 11 to 21 percent – nearly doubling in 12 months. This includes a 48 percent jump among middle-schoolers, who are lured by the tobacco industry’s assortment of flavored options. Simply put, e-cigarette use has become an epidemic.

Fortunately, our policymakers are acting on these concerns. Here in Maine, Gov. Mills has taken a step in the right direction by proposing an additional $10 million in funding over the next two years for the state’s tobacco control program. While still short of the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, this more than doubles the current funding level to expand educational and support programs in schools, in addition to helping adults quit tobacco.

However, there is still more work to be done. For too long, Maine’s program has been grossly underfunded, and we have seen substantial negative consequences as a result. The gains that Maine made in reducing youth tobacco use – starting in the early 2000s – have nearly been erased, as funding was cut and emerging products such as Juul were introduced by the tobacco industry. Modern-day tobacco products demand our utmost attention and maximum resources, just as much today.

To that end, events such as the Trek Across Maine are critical in providing resources to ensure that strong, evidence-based public health legislation is passed to protect our state from the dangers of tobacco use. Maine once led the nation in tobacco prevention efforts, and we can do so again. The American Lung Association’s dedicated team is leading the way to protect our youth and fighting the attempts of the tobacco industry to make them the next generation of nicotine addicts.

The threat from electronic cigarettes and emerging tobacco products is an example of why we need strong leadership from the American Lung Association and other advocacy partners. As a community hospital, dedicated to improving the health of our region, Mid Coast is grateful for the efforts of the American Lung Association. That is why I am proud to serve as a board member, and plan to attend and support our team in June’s event. I urge all New Englanders to register for the Trek at before the May 20 deadline and to join us in Brunswick this summer.

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