Teen e-cigarette use on the rise; Northwest Colorado program addresses issue
September 11, 2015
Craig — The trendy smoking fad of this generation's teenage population is proving to be electronic cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control statistics and those who work with teens here in Northwest Colorado.
Nationwide, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, with 13.4 percent of high school students now admitting to use within the past 30 days, according to the CDC.
Electronic cigarettes, also called electronic nicotine delivery systems, are battery operated and typically deliver nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals in a vapor to users, though not all contain the same ingredients and not all contain nicotine. The devices are small, and often resemble a regular cigarette, pen or other small item, like a USB drive.
The interest in e-cigarettes is evident locally, according to staff at Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, a group that works to prevent youth substance abuse in Moffat, Routt and Grand counties.
"The problem is that if these e-cigarettes have nicotine, that's highly addictive," said Maggie Rainwater, tri-county tobacco coordinator for Grand Futures.
Rainwater said that e-cigarettes appeal to students for a handful of reasons, including the ease of playing with the light vapor they emit, which teens enjoying blowing smoke rings with.
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The vapor quickly dissipates and e-cigarettes are fairly discrete in appearance, making them appealing to youth at school, who sometimes like to blow out vapor when their teacher's back is turned, Rainwater said.
"I think the big draw for teens is the 'vape' tricks," Rainwater said.
Because there is little governmental regulation of e-cigarettes, which hit the market in the United States about 2006, the short- and long-term health implications are still unclear.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently held three public workshops on e-cigarettes and public health and are reviewing information from an open comment period that ended in July.
Moffat County High School Principal Kelly McCormick said e-cigarette use is more difficult to catch among students than regular cigarettes.
"You gotta see it, and it dissipates really quickly, there's no lighter and there's no smell of smoke," he said. "It's totally targeted towards kids because it's got flavors like strawberry and watermelon. It's disturbing to me."
What also disturbs McCormick is that there's no way of knowing at first glance what kids are smoking, as e-cigarettes can also be used to smoke marijuana.
MCHS students caught using a tobacco product, including an e-cigarette, get a phone call to their parents, their device or product confiscated and are required to do a couple days of campus cleanup. The second offense entails a three-day suspension from school.
To help address the problem locally, Grand Futures Moffat County Program Director Cassandra Vigil is launching a Tobacco Task Force, which will hold its first meeting Thursday.
"We definitely want to look at the presence of tobacco among teens and definitely want to lower the use of tobacco in our community," Vigil said.
The task force and other tobacco education is funded by the State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership grant recently acquired by Grand Futures from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Vigil is currently working in partnership with Craig Police School Resource Officer Norm Rimmer and school administrators to plan Red Ribbon Week at Craig Middle School in October. The week will celebrate students being drug-free and include activities, education, a party and a pledge, as well as prizes.
Vigil hopes to be able to offer more prevention education to schools, individual classrooms and parent groups in the coming year.
"We are a free resource for prevention education," she said. "We hope to be utilized."
To get involved, contact Cassandra Vigil at 970-824-5752 or Cassandra@grandfutures.org.