Colorado youth are vaping nicotine at twice the national average and at the highest rate of 37 states surveyed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Following the first-ever “No Vape November” campaign in Colorado, agencies across the state are working to address the vaping among our youth.
In Aspen, 59% of high school students say they have tried vaping nicotine, second only to alcohol use, according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. This is more than the 53% average across the Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen to Parachute) and 43% across the state.
There has been a concerted effort across Pitkin County from schools, policymakers, and public health to curb youth e-cigarette use.
“Addressing vaping is a high priority for the Aspen School District since it is pervasive not only here but among teenagers across the country,” said Aspen High School Assistant Principal, Sarah Strassburger. “We are working collaboratively with the City of Aspen, Aspen Family Connection, and families in our community. Through these efforts, we hope to find even more ways to prevent students from starting and to provide interventions to help them stop.”
While smoking cigarettes among high school students has dropped drastically, vaping nicotine is currently on the rise. Research shows both smoking and vaping can be harmful to youth. More than 90% of vaping products, when tested, were found to contain nicotine, and the main vape device used by youth, the Juul, has nicotine in 100% of their products. In fact, the amount of nicotine in one Juul “pod” or cartridge is the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
“Of particular concern to us is that youth consider e-cigarettes to be safe and also relatively easy to get, even though it is illegal to purchase as minors,” said Pitkin County Public Health Director, Karen Koenemann.
“Studies show that Nicotine has a negative effect on adolescent brain development, causing lasting impairments, including effects on working memory and attention or focus,” Koenemann said. “Most vape products also contain dangerous toxins to create the flavors and feeling, including heavy metals like lead and chemicals known to cause cancer and other very serious diseases.”
Studies also show vaping is a predictor of future cigarette smoking. A study of 12th-grade students who had never smoked a cigarette found those who reported recent vaping were nearly five times (4.78) more likely to take up smoking one year later.
November 29nd, the Governor of Colorado held a Pep Rally to call attention to the end of the state’s first-ever “No Vape November”, a call to action for communities across the state to address vaping among our youth. As part of No Vape November, the Governor laid out a blueprint for curbing youth vaping. The blueprint has important policy options, including recommendations to increase the age to buy all tobacco products to 21 and require retailers to have a license to sell Tobacco. The City of Aspen was the first in the state to make this change in 2017, and the Town of Basalt soon followed. The Town of Snowmass Village is currently in the process of considering making these changes.
The Governor’s blueprint also includes increasing the price of e-cigarettes and adding safeguards to internet sales, a popular way for teens to buy e-cigarette products. The adoption of these policies will be in the hands of the incoming state government.
Aspen School District supported the effort to raise the tobacco sales age to 21 in the City of Aspen, partnered with AFC to hold Vaping Information nights for parents, and instituted a vaping cessation course that runs for 8 weeks for students found vaping on campus or any student interested in attending.
“We think it’s most important to provide students with skills that will support them to make healthy choices even beyond vaping.” Strassburger said. The school is instituting programs that build students' skill sets, including coping mechanisms, positive self-regulation, and the ability to identify and then make healthy choices. “We hope that we can continue to come together as a community to address this issue that is negatively impacting our youth.”
Parents are a key part of the solution. Parents can:
Talk to your kids about the risks of using e-cigarettes and help them understand how much you value their health
Set clear rules about vaping and smoking, including a smoke and vapor free rule for your home and car
Talk to your kids about how they can say no if presented with e-cigarettes by peers
Stay informed about youth e-cigarette use.
There are many resources to help parents and other trusted adults stay informed and speak with youth about vaping. The state has launched the TobaccoFreeCO.org website with free materials, including tips on starting the conversation and a Vaping 101 fact sheet.
Parents can also support local initiatives, such as raising the legal age to purchase vape and tobacco products to 21, requiring licensing for tobacco retailers, and increasing the price of these products.
Sara Strassburger - Aspen High School Assistant Principal - 970-925-3760
Karen Koenemann - Pitkin County Public Health Director -970-429-6171