Summit County officials close out “No Vape November” with another warning about teen vaping
We’ve all seen the anti-drug, anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco ad campaigns and PSAs several times since we were kids. While those official warnings are often met with eyerolls, Summit County’s public health department is urging the public to take the newest health campaign against vaping, including the recently concluded “No Vape November,” seriously. A state survey found that 44 percent of all Colorado high school students have tried a vape product, and that percentage is even higher in Summit County.
The latest Healthy Kids Colorado survey, an annual survey commissioned by the state to study health patterns in young people and inform of healthier life choices, found that while cigarette use among Colorado teens continues to decline, teen e-cigarette and nicotine vaping is continuing its unsettling rise as the reigning vice of choice for young people.
In the “Rocky Mountain Resort region” made up of Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit counties, 54 percent of high school students have reported using a vape product. Thirty-six percent report vaping regularly or within the past 30 days, compared to the statewide average of 27 percent. The national high school vaping average is 13 percent.
The statistics alarm Lauren Gilbert, a public health nurse for the county’s public health department. Gilbert said that there is a perception problem feeding the trend, where vaping is viewed as safer than smoking tobacco.
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“While it may or may not be true that vaping is safer than tobacco, we just don’t have the research to support that notion,” Gilbert said. “There are chemicals like propylene glycol (a petroleum byproduct) and glycerin in vape juice that might be dangerous when inhaled.”
Gilbert added that a lesser-known danger of vaping is the way nicotine affects still-developing brains, raising the propensity for addictive behavior later on in life.
“It’s kind of similar to alcohol,” Gilbert said. “Nicotine releases dopamine, essentially creating a reward system where you feel good whenever you vape or smoke. You get a dopamine rush each time you use the product, but your brain starts relying on the product to get those rushes, and that leads to addiction.”
Gilbert said that studies have already shown that vaping is correlated with higher rates of tobacco use and other addictive products later in life. And because of how unregulated the e-cigarette and vaping industry is (companies like Juul aren’t required to submit what ingredients they use in their products), there’s no way to tell how many kids might already be in a cycle of addiction.
“The damage is already done on adults,” Gilbert said. “My focus is on the next generation and making sure they don’t fall prey to the tobacco industry’s attempt to recruit new users. Tobacco is the only consumer product known to be deadly when used exactly as intended.”
Gov. Hickenlooper had designated November “No Vape November” across the state, with events and media campaigns targeting kids and trying to educate them on the dangers of vaping. Summit County has run ads on buses and a social media campaign to raise awareness of the issue. Summit School District has clamped down on the use of electronic devices for smoking and has introduced an alternative suspension program that tries to educate students about vaping instead of suspending them for it.
“I’m one of the only people in the county working to get kids to stop vaping,” Gilbert said. “We’re an adult coalition of six people. Our job is to educate and raise awareness because we don’t want this current generation of vapers to translate to more cigarette smokers in the future.”
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