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Teen vaping on the rise

Across the country, millions of smokers have turned to vaping as a smoking cessation aid. Facebook posts are filled with testimonials of smokers who have weaned themselves off nicotine through e-cigarettes.

“Vaping helped my dad stop smoking cigarettes,” said Marissa Cope-Harvey, who has been using e-cigarettes for seven years. “It made a huge difference in his life because he was able to get off nicotine entirely. He started smoking as a teen and continued to smoke for 35 years. If it had not been for vaping, I’m convinced he would still be smoking today.”

Despite smoking cessation endorsements, there is a downside to e-cigarette use when it comes to teens and young adults.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has declared vaping at “epidemic levels” among teens. In a statement he issued on Monday, Gottlieb addressed what he is calling a “troubling epidemic of youth e-cigarette use” and is employing a number of tools to ensure “no tobacco products are being marketed to, sold to, or used by kids.” Along with a series of enforcement actions, Gottlieb is employing public education campaigns to warn youths about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other tobacco product use.

A 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey revealed that 2 million middle school, high school and college students use e-cigarettes, and those numbers are continuing to climb, according to the FDA. While relatively safer than traditional cigarettes, reports indicate that e-cigarettes are not without harmful side effects. Healthcare professionals, educators and parents are worried about the rising incidence of teen vaping and applaud outreach efforts that aim to educate young people about nicotine addiction and potential health risks tied to e-cigarette use.

Jacqui Clay weighs in

“We are very concerned about the high incidence of e-cigarette use among our youth,” Cochise County School Superintendent Jacqui Clay said. “The use of e-cigarettes in teens is climbing across the country, and Cochise County is no exception. There have been numerous incidents within the county where students were found using e-cigarettes.

“It’s an alarming trend and we need to come together as a community to educate our students about the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.”

Pointing to research that addresses the nicotine content in e-cigarettes, Clay noted that most vaping solutions contain nicotine, some in extremely high concentrations. Another concern of Clay’s is that vaping could cause young people to start smoking traditional cigarettes.

“Research has also shown that nicotine use in adolescents can harm parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control,” Clay said. “Using nicotine at a young age could also increase the risk of future addiction to other drugs, which is very troubling.

“The best advice I can give young people is to stay away from products containing nicotine altogether. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into experimenting with any type of cigarette use. And if you’re already using these products, take the necessary steps to seek help and stop. Your future health and well being depends on it.”

Healthcare community reacts

Pamela Reed, an acute-care nurse practitioner at Canyon Vista Medical Center in Sierra Vista, works with pneumology-related cases. Like Clay, she expressed concerns about the popularity of vaping and the potential health risks to young people.

“Vaping is on the rise among teens in this country,” she said. “Although research is being conducted, there are not enough studies to show the long-term health risks associated with vaping. While we do know that nicotine is addictive and leads to dependency, there are many other harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes. Vaping, or e-cigarette use, can be just as addictive as regular cigarettes.”

Vaping has become more socially acceptable than traditional cigarette use, which has contributed to its popularity, she said.

“Some common reasons teens start to vape are curiosity, the different tastes and flavorings are appealing and the misconception that vaping is less harmful than conventional cigarettes,” Reed said. “We need more education for our teens on the potential hazards of vaping. The U.S. Surgeon General has created a tip sheet to help parents talk to their teens. It can be found at e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov.”

Community education

Impact Sierra Vista is a Community Coalition that aims to raise community awareness in preventing drug misuse and abuse.

“Our coalition has observed a rise in the use of e-cigarettes in youth and have talked to concerned parents and youth in our community who have seen a rise in the use of e-cigarettes,” said Monica Rawlings, prevention specialist for Southeastern Arizona Behavioral Health Services (SEABHS). “In past years, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission has released findings from the Arizona Youth Survey which includes eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students.”

Rawlings described the survey’s 2018 findings regarding use of e-cigarettes in youth as “shocking” to prevention staff.

“There was not a substantial increase in e-cigarette use with eighth-grade students, but the survey revealed a significant increase in vaping for 10th- and 12th-grade students. While these devices were created to help adults lower or even quit nicotine use, when it comes to youths, e-cigarettes have the opposite effect because it introduces them to the use of nicotine,” she said.

Citing findings from the National Youth Tobacco Survey of 2018, Rawlings said 1.5 million more middle school and high school students were using e-cigarettes in 2018, compared to the 2017 findings.

“This is definitely an alarming trend,” she said. “We urge parents to stay informed about the effects of e-cigarettes and talk to their children about the health concerns.”

Impact Sierra Vista offers a number of drug abuse prevention presentations to community members, schools and organizations. For more information, contact them at impactsierravista@gmail.com.

Benefits of e-cigarettes

When Julie Cotner opened Vapor Geeks in 2012, it was Sierra Vista’s first vape shop.

“My husband, Raymond, was blending juices in 2008 and had started selling them out of his house as a home-based business,” she said. “His juices were top quality, so I wanted to open a shop where he would have more visibility. With our shop, there are now six vape shops in Sierra Vista.”

Cotner, who smoked for 25 years, initially started the business to help smokers transition from cigarettes and become nicotine free.

“After 25 years of smoking, I started vaping and was able to wean myself off nicotine,” she said. “For me, you don’t have the urgency to smoke as frequently when you go from cigarettes to vaping.”

At Vapor Geeks, producing a high-quality product is important to Cotner, who said the shop makes its own vaping juices and knows exactly what goes into its products.

“We blend in a separate blending room,” she said, “and purchase the highest quality nicotine and other ingredients.”

When young people and nonsmokers walk into the store and express an interest in taking up vaping for the first time, Cotner said she does her best to discourage them from starting.

“Nicotine is so addictive that my goal is to stop people from experimenting with smoking,” she said. “My father died of lung cancer, and as a former ER nurse, I saw the terrible side effects of smoking.”

The nicotine in e-juice, Cotner said, is the same as what is used in patches and gum that are used to help people stop using nicotine products, only with a different delivery system.

“I was chained to cigarettes for so long that when I started vaping I was ecstatic about how much better I felt,” she said. “Unless you know what it’s like to be chained to an addiction like smoking, you can’t possibly know how freeing and exciting it is to be over it. My hope is that our product helps people who are addicted to nicotine stop smoking, just as e-cigarettes helped me.”

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