Teenage vaping is nothing to be taken lightly, according to local health officials.
Vaping is the inhaling of a vapor created by an electronic cigarette or other electronic device, such as a Juul, tank, or a mod that most often contains nicotine, which is an extremely addictive chemical.
Vaping became increasingly popular in the 2010s and has always been a problem among teens, much like smoking, but now the use of vaping products is climbing at an alarming rate, especially in Tooele County.
In 2019, Tooele County youth in sixth through 12th grades were given the biennial Tooele County SHARP (Student Health and Risk Prevention) survey.
Data from the survey indicated that 23.2% of students in grades 6 through 12 have vaped in their lifetime.
The survey also indicated that in Utah, 12.4% of youth in grades surveyed vaped, but in Tooele County the rate was 16.2%, with 12.7% of students saying that they had vaped within the past 30 days, according to Desiree Mudrow, Tooele County Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention Specialist.
“Local vaping trends have reflected that 30-day use tends to gradually increase through 11th grade before decreasing again,” said Mudrow, providing information about the survey. “Unfortunately, our 2019 data showed eighth grade use to be higher than both the state and national comparison data for 30-day and lifetime use. Tooele County 11th-grade students reported the highest lifetime rates at 40.2%, where 22.6% reported using within the past 30 days.”
Although these statistics may seem alarming, the rate of teen vaping in Tooele County may be higher than the state average but is actually much lower than the national average, according to Mudrow.
“This can be attributed to a number of environmental factors in Utah, such as policies, attitudes, and practices that make these products less accessible, ” Mudrow said.
It is widely known that because of its relative newness, long-term e-cigarette use has not been studied but health officials do know some of the effects of vaping.
“There is still a lot we don’t know about long term effects, since they are a newer product,” said Mudrow. “For youth, a big concern is the impact of nicotine on the developing brain.
According to the CDC, a popular e-cigarette called a Juul can have as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes, and approximately two-thirds of Juul users between the ages of 15-24 do not know that their Juul contains nicotine.
The nicotine in e-cigarettes is just as addictive as the nicotine in traditional nicotine products, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco, said Mudrow.
“This is why many who started out vaping as teenagers end up going to traditional cigarettes,” she stated.
Also, using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control, along with increasing the risk for future addiction to other drugs, according to the CDC.
Vaping is also known to be linked to multiple forms of cancer, according to the CDC.
According to Mudrow, teenagers may want to vape for multiple reasons.
“There isn’t any single reason why teenagers choose to try vaping,” she said. “There are a number of contributing factors that need to be considered. Enticed by flavors, heavily marketed to, friends do it, misconception that it’s just ‘water vapor’ and not being aware that it contains nicotine, which is very addicting are some of the reasons why teens vape. Also, mixed messaging. Successful pro-vaping, and e-cigarette marketing, and advisory has established a narrative that vaping is a health alternative to smoking. While some of these claims may have merit as rationale as a smoking cessation tool, this is not the message teenagers are receiving. Unclear messaging like this sets an expectation that the substance inside is not addictive or otherwise a detriment to their health.”
Another reason why teens vape is because of parent and peer attitudes towards it.
“As peer and parental attitudes and norms become more favorable to vaping, the attitude will rub off on the individual and they will be more likely to experiment with the substance,” Mudrow stated.
Also, vaping is common among teens because of the accessibility factor.
“While regulation has been tightening over recent years, vaping products have been accessible with little oversight of its content and concentration. Years of prevention science has evidenced that the easier it is for teenagers to access, the more likely they will use it,” said Mudrow.
According to the 2019 SHARP survey, the most common answer among teens who had vaped in the past 30 days was that they had “borrowed their vaping product or e-cigarette from someone else.”
“Borrowed their vaping product or e-cigarette from someone else” stood at 39.7% among answers for the sixth through 12th graders, according to Mudrow.
Another common way teens have acquired vaping products or e-cigarettes was to provide someone old enough to purchase it for them with money — 13.7% among grades surveyed.
The survey indicated that internet-based purchases of vape products have reduced dramatically over recent years.
However, the mystery is how the other majority of the teens surveys acquired their vaping products.
“There is a large category on the survey labeled ‘some other way’”, said Mudrow. “Twenty six percent of students indicated this. We hope to better understand this category to better monitor where else teenagers are getting access to these products.”
Convenience stores and tobacco specialty stores remained the lowest point of access at less than 1% on the survey.
“We thank those store owners and clerks for refusing sales to minors,” Mudrowsaid. “We also ask those of legal age to take part in reducing access by not buying or gifting these products to minors,”
There several things parents can do to reduce the likelihood that their teenagers will pick up vapin, according to Mudrow.
Parents should be aware that vape devices look like everyday items, like lipstick tubes and flash drivers, said Mudrow.
Parents should also talk to their children about vaping, advocate for stronger policies around tobacco, and make sure children know the parent’s disapproval around vaping, according to Mudrow.
“Teenagers don’t respond well to scare tactics,” Mudrow warned. “Avoid these types of topics.”
Nicotine addiction is serious but early interventions can be beneficial, according to Mudrow.
“Some individuals may not realize what addiction looks or feels like to know when they need help,” Mudrow said.
Luckily, there are resources for teens who need help quitting.
Teensmokefree.gov, the app “quitSTART”, 1-800-QUITNOW, and texting QUIT to 47848 are all resources for teens.