On Dec. 17, 2018, the National Institute of Health stated that a nationwide survey found that High school seniors who reported vaping “aka, just flavoring” increased to 25.7 percent from 20.6 percent in 2017. Among 10th-graders that percentage rose to 24.7 from 19.3. Also, In 2018 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Colorado led the nation in vaping product usage with 27 percent of high school students using e-cigarettes — more than twice the national average of 13 percent.
Colorado youth are “vaping” at alarming rates. Electronic cigarettes — or e-cigarettes — are also called vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, tank systems, mods, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). An e-cigarette is a battery-operated device typically containing nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals that, when heated, creates inhalable aerosol vapor. Vaping is odorless, the vapor dissipates very quickly, and the devices can be easily hidden and disguised.
Vaping is very hard to detect and San Luis Valley school officials report confiscating few devices and disciplining few students for vaping. Some Colorado schools have begun to install “vaping smoke detectors” in their restrooms and other school areas in an attempt to curb the vaping epidemic. But these new devices are expensive, over $1,000 each, and are currently cost-prohibitive for smaller school districts with smaller budgets.
In October, David Pino, the Monte Vista School District Resource Officer stated, “Working in the school so far I haven’t seen very much vaping or e-cigs. I can’t follow them around all the time during lunch and the times that I have followed them I actually have had some interactions with children doing marijuana unlawfully.” He added that he has caught students doing regular cigarettes before. But he hasn’t seen any of them vaping or using e-cigs. “Not once this year have I come into contact with a juvenile with an e-cigarette. It’s surprising. I’m not saying they’re not out there. They’re just doing a good job of concealing it or not getting caught with it,” said Officer Pino.
It appears this may be the case, as a 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado survey sampled approximately 56,000 Colorado youth from 190 randomly selected middle and high schools statewide. According to Healthy Kids Colorado Survey Data: When asked, “Have you ever used a vapor product?” Over 40 percent of Colorado high school students stated “yes” while 49.2 percent of San Luis Valley high school students admitted to using a vaping product. According to the same survey data: When asked have you used a vapor product during the past 30 days, 27.0 percent in the state and 20.8 percent of San Luis Valley high school students answered “Yes.”
Rio Grande County Public health nurse Paul Wertz stated, “If this was measles or tuberculosis, even just the flu, we would consider this an epidemic outbreak. What we’re talking about is vaping. Nicotine delivery devices among our youth.”
In the Upper San Luis Valley students have stated that there is a lot of peer pressure to “vape.” Students reported that athletes tend to “vape” less than other students. Being involved in sports seems to provide an excuse not to vape. However, students disclosed that they were able to get vapes and e-cigs everywhere including from fellow students and adults. “Students said that a lot of students are getting away with vaping because they hide it well. Students also stated that they think vaping is a healthier choice than cigarettes.” More concerning, students are reporting that ENDS users are becoming addicted to the nicotine in the vapor.
San Luis Valley superintendents, teachers and health officials are trying their best to curb the usage of e-cigarettes by adolescents. Local schools reported that they are educating students about the health risks associated with vaping. Schools have implemented the Second Chance program which is a web-based interactive, and self-directed alternative to a suspension education program for middle and high school youth who have violated a tobacco policy at school. Some school systems have also partnered with Communities that Care (CTC). The CTC system also consists of web workshops with instructional videos, materials, research, and a Social Development Strategy to promote positive youth development. Some school districts have Health and Wellness Taskforces that implement comprehensive health and wellness classes that use an evidence-based curriculum to address tobacco/drug/alcohol prevention and abuse and other health related topics.
E-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales. The liquid usually has nicotine and flavoring in it, and other additives. The nicotine in e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes is addictive. E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco.
Over 85 percent of e-cigarettes and vaping juices
Most e-cigarettes, vaping juices, and other vaping derivatives marketed and sold in the United States today contain nicotine derived from tobacco. Estimates are over 85 percent of vaping products contain nicotine, but this number is difficult to determine as many products that are being sold as being nicotine free have tested positive for nicotine. This calls for stricter regulations by the FDA, so consumers know what they are inhaling.
The health effects of passive exposure to e-cigarettes with no nicotine, as well as their actual use and the extent of exposure to these products, have just begun to be studied. In November 2018, the FDA announced that it would limit the available e-cigarette flavors to tobacco, menthol and mint. Companies including Juul had previously sold flavors like mango and cotton candy, which suggested that children were a target for the growing industry. As in the past, it is clearly evident that the “flavors” in e-cigarettes are targeting teens, young adults and nonsmokers. The concern is that over 85 percent of e-cigarettes with “sweet flavors” contain nicotine and users will unwillingly become addicted to nicotine.
A study estimated that there are 7,700 unique vaping flavors and most are fruit or candy flavors. Popular flavors are mint, coffee, fruit flavors, bubble gum, Belgian waffle, straw-berry daiquiri. Flavors have been used for decades by “big tobacco” companies to attract youth to tobacco products and to mask the flavor and harshness of tobacco.
The teen years are critical for brain development, which continues into young adulthood. Young people who use nicotine products in any form, including e-cigarettes, are uniquely at risk for long-lasting effects. Because nicotine affects the development of the brain’s reward system, continued e-cigarette use cannot only lead to nicotine addiction, but it also can make other drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine more pleasurable to a teen’s developing brain.