COLORADO SPRINGS — As we continue highlighting the teen vaping epidemic in our country and in Colorado, it’s important to understand why vaping is so appealing to kids - beyond the obvious answer that kids will simply be kids.
The experts I spoke with say that part of the reason is that vaping is simply a whole different game than traditional smoking.
Kevin McQueen, a respiratory therapist and the director of respiratory care for UCHealth in southern Colorado, says: “People from my generation - if we tried to smoke we were smoking combustible cigarettes. There was a smell and a stigma and people could catch us, so kids had to hide. This (vaping) is so in the open and people can do vaping anywhere and it's allowing these adolescents to vape a much larger amount of these liquids that contain nicotine.”
Dr. Grace Houser, a pediatric pulmonologist with Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs, says the data also says that Colorado teens see vaping differently than smoking cigarettes. “We know from the El Paso County statistics from 2017, that about 85 to 90% of youth know that smoking traditional cigarettes is risky, but less than 50% knew that smoking electronic cigarette products is risky.”
As vaping grows, kids are exposed to it more and more, which is another reason more education is needed. Dr. Houser says, “We know teens are influenced by what they see and what they perceive as normal. If they see adults using these products, or if they see their friends using these products, and they perceive that they're safe, they don't always do that further research or investigation or have the decision-making to say ‘this might harm me down the road, this may not be a good idea.’ ”
Another factor in an increase in vaping among teens is that initial marketing of vaping was that it would help people quit smoking regular cigarettes. Dr. Houser says, “A lot of times these (vaping products) are marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. In some instances for current adult smokers that may be true, if adults are able to cut back from traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes. What we know for sure is that safer, does not mean safe.”
McQueen of UCHealth adds, “They (vaping products) are sold with the idea that they're safe. It’s a product you can buy at the store, and companies are not as regulated as combustible cigarettes at this time so it's readily out there. Children also often think ‘it's not going to happen to me,’ When you tell them that this is something that may affect them 10, 15, 20 years down the road, that means absolutely nothing to them. They're not worried about the future, they're enjoying the time now. Nicotine is also such a powerfully addictive drug that it doesn't take very long to become addicted. They (kids) will start, they will tell their friends it's a fun thing, they don't have to worry about the smell, and it's becoming something where they will all hang out together and have parties related to vaping.”
McQueen and his team at UCHealth have put together a vaping presentation and will give it free of charge. “I would like to get out to every school district in southern Colorado if we can. Pueblo, Colorado Springs - I have a whole team of people that are willing to come present the information so we can better educate people. I'd like to go talk to the teenagers just so they have an educated understanding that these (devices) are not completely safe, there are risks and they need to just be aware of it - then they can make their decisions. Any parent needs to step up and learn about it; even if their kid is not currently vaping, they need to be aware and know what to look for.”
For more details on Kevin’s vaping presentation, and how you can schedule it for your school ororganization, you can email him at Kevin.McQueen@uchealth.org