The truth about teen vaping: Teen use on the rise in Grand County
How to talk to your teen about vaping
Lindsey Simbeye, executive director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, gives parents some tips on how to talk with their kids about vaping.
Address the perception and reality gap. The majority of teens are abstaining from vaping and Simbeye said pointing this out can help teens deal with peer pressure.
Have conversations in a casual and ongoing way. Simbeye suggests using an advertisement or conversational cue to prompt conversations so they don’t feel forced.
Ask open-ended questions and allow your teen to do the same. Be honest.
Overall, Simbeye recommended keeping the tone of conversations positive and open, not condemning, punitive or accusatory. This helps establish trust, she said.
Don’t wait until you think your teen is engaging in substance use to talk about it, Simbeye said.
For more resources, visit speaknowcolorado.org.
Smoking traditionally used to consist of packs of cigarettes, lighters and clouds of smoke with a stench that lingered, but now, thanks to e-cigarettes, smoking can be easy and surreptitious, which is contributing to the growing issue of teen e-cigarette usage.
In Colorado, 27 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes, and Grand County is part of a region of the state where 36 percent of high school students report using e-cigarettes, according to a 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.
“The reality is smoking these days is technology, well who are early adopters of technology? Youth,” explained Lindsey Simbeye, executive director for the Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, a local youth substance-abuse-prevention group.
While e-cigarettes, commonly known as vapes, have become popular because of the variety and convenience they can offer users, these are the very reasons officials have become concerned about teen usage.
“What we really need to talk about is (the perception and reality) gap and letting our youth know that by making positive lifestyle choices and abstaining from substances, they are actually in the majority, especially when it comes to vaping,” Simbeye explained.
It is against the law for minors under the age of 18 to use, purchase or possess vaping products that contain nicotine, just like tobacco products.
“Vaping has become a big concern,” said Lt. Dan Mayer, spokesperson for the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re seeing a concerning amount of it.”
Youth tend to use substances for one of two reasons: because of the cool factor and that they don’t want to get left out — and that’s exactly what that perception gap addresses, according to Simbeye.
Vaping is often marketed as a way to help people quit smoking, which it can be effective at, but Simbeye cautioned that for teens who didn’t previously smoke, vaping can be an introduction to nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance.
Nicotine is also particularly harmful to teens since they are still undergoing brain development, according to the U.S. surgeon general.
“Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances out there and one of the hardest substances to quit,” Simbeye added. “Additionally, nicotine stimulates our reward system and because it stimulates our reward system, it potentially is going to come to a point where nicotine is no longer enough of a stimulation and then that reward system looks for more.”
Not all vape juice or pods contain nicotine, but many do, including the highly popular JUUL. In fact, one JUUL pod has the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.
Ken Fife, owner of K&J Smoke Shop in Granby and Winter Park, which doesn’t sell cigarettes but does offer vaping products, said customers who buy the JUUL tend to enjoy that strong nicotine feeling it provides.
“JUUL pods are a little bit stronger, so when you take that hit, it’s like two drags off a cigarette in one feeling,” Fife explained. “That’s the appeal to it.”
Though vapes don’t contain all of the same toxins as cigarettes, Simbeye also mentioned that vape juice or pods can still contain dangerous chemicals, such as diacetyl, propylene glycol and heavy metals, and the chemicals are in aerosol form.
“Because vaping products are not FDA regulated, it’s very hard to know what one vaping product has in it versus another,” she said. “We don’t necessarily know the long-term effects of what that’s going to look like.”
Aside from some misunderstandings surrounding vaping that can lead teens to giving it a try, vape juice and pods also come in flavors, which can attract teen users, according to the Truth Initiative.
K&J Smoke Shop manager Amber Saldate estimated that vaping products account for up to 40 percent of the store’s sales, with JUUL and JUUL-compatible products, particularly flavored pods, being popular among people in the 19 to 25 age range.
Saldate said she has to turn away customers about once a week for not having an ID, regardless of how old they look. The store also has security cameras set up and signage at the front door to deter anyone underage from coming in.
Unfortunately, there are other ways for teens to get access to vaping products, including buying online or sharing with an older friend.
Vaping worrying at Grand County schools
While a majority of teens are abstaining from vaping, the prevalence of teen usage has become visible in local schools.
East Grand Superintendent Frank Reeves said the district knows that vaping is happening at school, but the concern is that it is difficult to catch.
Vapes are easier to conceal than cigarettes since some, like the JUUL, are small and can look similar to a USB drive. That makes them easy to tuck away in backpacks, lockers and jacket pockets. Smaller vapes also produce less smoke than traditional cigarettes and are almost odorless, leaving the user almost undetectable.
“I think mostly it’s occurring in bathrooms, locker rooms and those areas, but we know it’s occurring in class, too,” Reeves said.
East Grand Schools has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to vaping, meaning any student caught is suspended and any vapes found at school are tested using testing kits. So far, the district has only recovered nicotine vapes.
“The scary thing is that it’s such a new product that we don’t know the dangers of it,” Reeves said. “We said we’re going to have a zero-tolerance on this, in terms of automatic discipline that will happen and it won’t be situational, so to speak.
“That usually doesn’t work well, but it was at that point of let’s do something right now.”
West Grand schools have a similar zero-tolerance policy, according to West Grand Schools Superintendent Darrin Peppard. Students caught vaping on campus are suspended and may face a citation.
However, Peppard emphasized that the focus of the district is not to punish students, but to educate them on the hazards of vaping.
“Consequences and punishment are really not the ways that are going to be effective,” he said.
Last year, West Grand received a curriculum grant from the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence for classroom resources regarding teen vaping that the district used in classes from sixth to ninth grades.
“It’s a life skills training grant,” Peppard explained. “There was some really exceptional training for our health teachers and for our counselors and there’s pieces in there not only related to substance, but managing anger, understanding your feelings, dealing with conflict.”
Reeves agreed, saying the best way to address it is through education and continuing to work with health agencies to stay on top of the data and research. In December, Middle Park High School held an assembly addressing teen vaping for students, staff and parents.
“I think the biggest piece will be how do we all together, as a community, as a school and many of us that work with kids, how do we best combat it and come together to do so,” he said. “Every kid is so different, so I think we need a lot of different techniques.”
Peppard said West Grand is considering a similar assembly and has been sending information home to parents, posting on its social media and Peppard even wrote a column for a local newsletter.
The district is also looking at having a school resource officer on West Grand High School campus and potentially using the D.A.R.E. program, Peppard said. Besides those measures, he said the district will continue to bring awareness to the issue.
“It’s really making sure we educate our students and not just as a single-shot, but there’s got to be numerous opportunities for them to gather a lot of facts and enable themselves to make good decisions,” he said. “Part of that is educating our students around how to make good decisions, how to utilize refusal skills and helping educating them around not needing some substance to make them feel good or important or popular.”
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