Vaping rates among teens in Southwest Colorado are outstripping high statewide rates.
A 2017 survey showed 27 percent of Colorado teens are using electronic cigarettes to ingest nicotine, a practice known as vaping. The use of electronic cigarettes among teens in Colorado is about twice the national average.
Across Southwest Colorado, of the 1,768 teens surveyed, 34.2 percent said they vape, and among Durango School District 9-R students, nearly 40 percent said they vape, according to Healthy Kids Colorado Survey Results.
In 9-R schools, the rate of vaping was much higher than the use of other substances. For example, 30 percent of 9-R students reported using alcohol and 26 percent reported using marijuana.
The high rates of vaping among teens are concerning because using nicotine can affect brain development and put teens at risk for mood disorders, attention and learning disorders, and other substance addictions later in life, said Alison Reidmohr, a tobacco communication specialist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“It’s a bit like building an on-ramp for addiction,” she said.
The liquid in a vaping device can contain nicotine, toxins, heavy metals and certain chemicals known to cause cancer, said Claire Ninde, spokeswoman for San Juan Basin Public Health.
Vaping products are made appealing to teens with flavors such as cotton candy, gummy bear and banana split, she said.
Bayfield School District superintendent Kevin Aten said there is widespread misconception that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking among parents and students.
In his district, prevention work has focused on educating parents and students about vaping’s dangers and how it works, he said. For example, some popular vaping devices can be mistaken as USB jump drives, he said.
Aten said he was away from his desk last week and could not immediately say what the rate of vaping is in Bayfield schools.
Juul Labs, a maker of many popular vape products, announced last week it will restrict the sale of flavored products, such as mango and cucumber, and end its social media promotion.
It is a change Aten described as a de-facto admission that some of the company’s practices have attracted young users.
“The marketing of it has been detrimental to the health of our children,” he said of vaping.
All of Juul’s flavored products will remain available online, according a statement on the company’s website.
To help prevent the sale of vape products to those younger than 21, the company plans to ask online customers to provide their name, date of birth, permanent address and the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Juul’s steps show the company is aware young people are using its products, but the measures are unlikely to reduce rates of vaping among teens because they are similar to previously failed industry-sponsored efforts to restrict tobacco sales to teenagers, Reidmohr said.
“If history is any indication, this program will not keep products out of the hands of kids,” she said.
She also described the ending of the social media campaigns as a good step, but there are already thousands of videos and photos on online social media platforms that promote vaping.
“It may wind up being too little, too late,” she said.
The state has been tracking the rise of vaping products among teenagers for years, and in 2015, it collected the first survey data showing it was an issue, she said.
Communities can expand rules that prohibit cigarette smoking in public spaces to vaping, and that could help communicate to teenagers that it is not socially acceptable to vape, she said.
Fort Lewis College announced this week it will ban smoking on campus, including vaping, beginning Jan. 1.
The state also developed a free curriculum for schools called SecondChance, a web-based class that students can take as an alternative to suspension if they are caught vaping.
More information for parents about vaping is available at Tobaccofreeco.org