Teen vaping rises at alarming rate BVSD, county collaborate to fight trend

Call it stealth nicotine. Like the U.S. Air Force’s Stealth bomber, a vaping device can hit its target without being detected.

Vaping’s target with the highest profit potential: young people’s brains, where it creates dependence.

The stealth aspect? Vaping devices, also known as electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, are easily concealed. The e-cigarette from Juul, the largest e-cigarette company, is the size of a computer Łash drive and similar in appearance, for example. Unlike cigarettes, vaping can evade the keen nose of a parent or teacher and is easy to use in a school restroom or hallways. The frequency at which teens can vape likely makes dependence happen more quickly.

Colorado has the highest vaping rate of any state in the nation, and Boulder County has one of the highest rates in the state.

In the Boulder Valley School District, 33% of high school students said they had vaped in the past 30 days, while 46% of students said they had vaped at least once, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. (The St. Vrain Valley School district does not participate in the survey.)

And vaping’s popularity is growing and spreading to pre-teens.

“We have actually heard about instances in elementary school,” said Brittany Carpenter, program coordinator for the Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership at Boulder County Public Health. “It’s trending younger and younger, which is of great concern.”

“Part of the problem may be perception of risk,” Carpenter said.

While 88% of youth perceive cigarettes to be risky, only 51% of young people say the same about vaping, she said, citing the Colorado Healthy Kids Survey.

That perception is not a matter of happenstance, said Avani Dilger, founder and executive director of Natural Highs, a substance abuse prevention peer mentor program housed in New Vista High School in Boulder.

Dilger said surveys show young people say they have seen lots of vaping ads, whereas adults report they have not. A weekly report for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in March 2018 found that 4 in 5 middle and high school students had seen e-cigarette advertisements in 2016. The report added that exposure to ads was associated with higher use among youth.

Nicotine is highly addictive, as any current or former smoker can tell you.

“Nicotine is a stimulant and sedative at the same time,”Dilger said. “That’s the most addictive combination you can give a brain.”

According to the CDC report, e-cigarettes are not subject to marketing regulations that limit cigarette advertising such as bans on television ads, promotions for music and sporting events, in-store displays and outside store displays eye-level with children.

Many ads offer vaping as a harm-reducing alternative to cigarettes. Vaping opponents compare the campaign to Big Tobacco’s introduction of low tar and nicotine cigarettes, which, they say, made some consumers believe they were safer than traditional cigarettes. In late 2018, Altria Group, the parent company of cigarette maker Phllip Morris USA, acquired a 35% stake in Juul.

Anyone 18 or over can buy e-cigarettes. Critics say enforcement is spotty. As of this writing, the City of Boulder had raised the age to 21 alongside a handful of Colorado municipalities. States such as California are considering regulating the sale of fruit-flavored liquids in e-cigarettes; Boulder and Aspen have banned flavored e-cigarette liquids, and Boulder voters in 2019 were set to consider a new 40% sales tax on vaping products that remained legal. Dilger, of Natural Highs, said some students start with fruit flavored e-cigarettes in the belief that they don’t contain nicotine.

As lawmakers and regulators play catch up, Carpenter said it’s up to teachers and educators to sound the alarm.

Dilger has found that teens respond to information about the motivations of vaping companies.

“We tell them, ‘It’s all about an industry creating a product so highly addictive to make a proÿt. You are basically the target.’”