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Local officials are concerned about teenagers and vaping

Locations: News Published

“Juuling,” “ghosting,” “vape pen,” “e-juice…” You’re not alone if you have no idea what these terms mean. However, the Carbondale Police Department and local county health departments are urging adults to pay close attention to this lingo as it relates to a growing epidemic of nicotine addiction among youth.

It all comes down to the act of inhaling and exhaling the vapor, or aerosol, produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device. E-juice, e-liquid, or vape juice is the liquid inside the pod which is heated up, turned into an aerosol, and inhaled. The ingredients of the e-juice can vary, from flavored oil to marijuana to nicotine.

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Mandy Ivanov, the Tobacco Control Program Coordinator for Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin Counties, spoke to about 50 community members at an informational meeting held at Carbondale Middle School last month. According to Ivanov, the most common substance that teens are vaping these days is nicotine.

Vaping nicotine is particularly concerning since it poses numerous health risks in addition to being extremely addictive, readily accessible to youth, and easy to hide from adult eyes.

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“I’ve spoken with youth who told me that within three to four months, they’re vaping the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes per day,” Ivanov said. “There’s nothing nasty or harsh about it to tell them to stop.”

The Healthy Kids Survey of 2015 found that 46 percent of Colorado’s high school students say they have tried vaping and 26 percent say they have used it within the past 30 days.

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Ivanov believes that use among teens has increased significantly since the 2015 survey, and that the level of use in our valley is similar to that of the state. She noted the rising popularity of vaping among middle schoolers as well.

The legal age for purchasing vaping materials in Colorado is 18. However, materials can be ordered online by simply clicking on an age verification button.

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According to a Carbondale Police Department pamphlet, one puff on a vaping device typically provides the same amount of nicotine as smoking about one and a half cigarettes.  Understanding the experience of the “nicotine buzz” makes it easy to see why it’s so popular. According to a recent article in Medical News Today, the possible effects of vaping nicotine include: increase in energy, improved concentration and memory, decrease in anxiety, and  feeling of euphoria.

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Nicotine is considered a highly addictive substance, especially for people under the age of 25 since their brains are still developing. According to the National Institute of Health, effects of prolonged use include an increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal disorders.

As if the buzz weren’t tempting enough, e-juice comes in a wide variety of flavors, such raspberry mocha and key lime cookie.

“Kids may say or think, ‘I’m just vaping the flavor,’” Ivanov told community members. However, the vaping industry is not required to list all ingredients in the liquid pods. Vape juice that is marketed as nicotine-free has been found to contain nicotine as well.

Even if a person is “just” vaping the flavor, the flavorings and other additives which the FDA has found to be safe for digestion, are not necessarily safe when heated to high temperatures and inhaled into one’s lungs.

Given how difficult it is to know what type of liquid is being used in a vaping device — expensive test kits are required — and the potential health risks associated with all types of vaping, Ivanov said the most important thing is to keep all vaping devices out of the hands of kids: “We need to focus on the device, not what’s in it.”


Local responses

The town trustees discussed the issue of vaping for the first time at their April 10 meeting (read more). One question on the table was whether the Town of Carbondale should consider creating a local ordinance raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco/nicotine products to 21 and establishing a local licensure requirement for retailers of such products.

So far, only two municipalities in the entire state of Colorado have taken these actions: Aspen and Basalt. Aspen’s ordinances went into effect at the start of this year; Basalt’s ordinances will go into effect July 1.

In an interview with The Sopris Sun prior to the meeting, Mayor Dan Richardson expressed some reservations about following suit. “I’m learning anecdotally that increasing the minimum age won’t change things much because everyone’s buying it online,” he said. “And if we change the cigarette policy at all, that negates our right to collect cigarette taxes.”

Richardson questioned whether it might be more productive to dedicate the town’s revenue from the cigarette tax to local action against vaping, rather than giving up that revenue.

Several schools in the community are also taking actions to prevent vaping among students. Carbondale Middle School recently received funding from the School Health Professional Grant program to hire a specialist who will implement education, prevention and community outreach efforts relating to substance abuse.

In talking to kids about vaping, Ivanov encourages parents to be understanding of the appeal of its use. “It’s hidden, it’s high-tech, it’s ‘new,’” she said, and very seductive to youth. While kids seem to be well aware of the dangers of smoking, they often see vaping as a safe alternative to cigarettes.

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