Colorado youth use e-cigarettes at twice the national average
Colorado’s high school and middle school students are using e-cigarettes, or vaping nicotine products, at twice the national average, according to a recent study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorado youth reported the highest e-cigarette usage rate of any of the 37 states surveyed.
“Vaping has replaced cigarettes as a way for underage youth to use nicotine,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). “Too many of our young people don’t realize the health risks involved.”
The 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a sampling of 56,000 middle and high school students conducted by the CDPHE, shows that while only about seven percent of Colorado youth smoke cigarettes, 27 percent are using e-cigarettes. Just fewer than 45 percent of respondents said they tried e-cigarettes last year, making it the second most tried substance among the state’s youth behind alcohol (59 percent).
The study was broken up into 21 regions in Colorado. Summit’s region—which also includes Garfield, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin county’s—showed slightly higher rates than the state as a whole, with nine percent smoking cigarettes and 36 percent using e-cigarettes.
The study also dives into the risk perception and access surrounding e-cigarettes. Even though it’s illegal for minors to purchase e-cigarettes, 58 percent of respondents said that they were easy to get. While Colorado youth agree that smoking cigarettes is a risky activity, only about 50 percent believe that vaping nicotine products come with risk. But research shows otherwise.
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E-cigarettes’ aerosol often includes nicotine, flavoring such as diacetyl, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead, according to the CDC.The CDC has also linked e-cigarettes to slowing adolescent brain development, which can continue into the early to mid-20s.
Perhaps most troubling is that youth e-cigarette usage can be a clear gateway to smoking cigarettes or other substances as an adult. A 2016 study by University of Southern California Dr. Jessica Barrington-Trimis, among others, of 11th and 12th graders published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that students who used e-cigarettes were 6.17 times more likely to start smoking cigarettes than their never-smoking counter parts.
E-cigarette users were also more likely to start smoking cigars, hookahs and pipes.
“These findings suggest that e-cigarette use may promote smoking during the transition to adulthood, even in those considered to be at lower risk because of personal or environmental factors,” the study reads.
Also of note in the 2016 study is that the risk of smoking cigarettes associated with e-cigarette use may be higher among youth who reported no intention of ever picking up a cigarette, as opposed to those who likely would have begun smoking as an adult regardless. According to the study, 36 percent of non-susceptible individuals — youth who reported no desire to smoke combustible cigarettes — initiated cigarette use after using e-cigarettes, as opposed to only six percent of non e-cigarette users.
The study continues: “These findings suggest that e-cigarettes are not merely a marker for individuals who would have gone on to smoke combustible cigarettes, regardless of the availability of e-cigarettes, but that e-cigarette use is likely introducing new youth to tobacco products and is increasing the likelihood of future smoking among the low-risk group who expressed confidence that they would not do so.”
The health department has launched a public education campaign in order to help parents, teachers and other influential adults learn how to talk with youth about vaping, spearheaded by the campaign’s website, TobaccoFreeCo.org.
“Research has shown us that young people benefit from conversations with their parents and other trusted adults,” said Wolk. “Fact–based conversations can be very productive, and actually change teens’ minds about the risks of vaping.”