The headlines began to roll in in late July 2018. In a survey that covered 37 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveled that Colorado youth were vaping nicotine at twice the national average.
Part of the problem, as a separate state survey showed, is that Colorado’s youth don’t see a risk in vaping as they do with smoking cigarettes. Furthermore, teens surveyed have said that vaping products are easier to obtain than cigarettes.
According to Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, “vaping has replaced cigarettes as a way for underaged youth to use nicotine.”
He added in a press release that “too many of our young people don’t realize the health risks involved.”
A 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey showed that cigarette smoking among high school students has dropped to only seven percent among high schoolers, but vaping nicotine is on the rise up to 27 percent. The same survey reveled that 87 percent of Colorado high school students think smoking cigarettes is risky, but only 50 percent view those same risks in vaping nicotine.
“I mostly just got started because it was something my friends were doing and it looked cool,” said Laura, 16, who did not want to provide her last name. “You know you do it and then put it out (on social media) to show what you’re doing and then other people want to try it too.”
Though a lot of fingers have been pointed at the naivety of teens and the strong social media presence of vaping among them, parents also carry part of the burden.
Albert Hobbs, 44, told us that he was not aware of the negative effects of vaping when he learned his 16 and 19-year-old sons were part of the growing trend.
“I didn’t even know it had nicotine,” he said. “They grew up watching me smoke and know how bad and addictive it is, so I was surprised to learn that they were doing the same thing. I had only heard stories about how e-cigarettes had helped people stop smoking, so it thought it was a good thing.”
Though there are many anecdotes as to how e-cigarettes have helped people kick the habit of tobacco cigarettes, it is not well known how beneficial - if at all - e-cigarettes are versus their tobacco counterparts.
Research shows that more than 90 percent of vaping products were found to contain nicotine, which has a negative effect on adolescent brain development and can cause lasting cognitive and behavior impairments.
Shouldering a lot of the blame for the nascent vaping industry are the manufacturers of e-cigarettes. They are being investigated by the FDA to see if they are, in fact, marketing to children and teens, and before leaving office earlier this month, Governor John Hickenlooper released an executive order to “limit the use of tobacco products, vaping products, and e-cigarettes by youth.”
Through the executive order the governor recommended that the state legislature to consider strengthening age-verification practices for online sellers, updated the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act to restrict the use of e-cigarettes in places where marijuana and tobacco use are already prohibited, and raise the minimum age for purchasing vaping products from 18 to 21.
“I don’t know that any of that will have a lot of effect on kids,” Laura said. “I mean, it’s just like anything. If you want to find it, you’re going to find it. If you want to do it, you’ll find a way to do it. Telling us, ‘no, you can’t do that,’ isn’t going to change anything. It didn’t work on (adults) when they were teens, it won’t work on us now.”