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El Paso County eyes education, policies for teen vaping ‘crisis’

Posted at 9:40 PM, Jan 24, 2019

EL PASO COUNTY – The discovery came just six months ago for Amber Perkins.

“I was in his room looking for something, and I found these little things that looked like USB drives,” she said.

A quick search of one of her son’s bedrooms revealed he was using Juul, a type of e-cigarette, behind her back. The e-cigarettes, despite plush advertising and multiple flavors, still expose users to nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals.

“I thought it was very dangerous, and I didn’t want him doing it. He understood my point of view. He wasn’t too happy about it, but he did stop doing it,” Perkins said.

Now, El Paso County is hoping other parents will step up and make a similar change.

The county declared teen vaping a public health crisis this week, calling for heightened awareness to curb the rising trend.

Dacia Hudson serves as the tobacco education and prevention program manager for El Paso County Public Health. She said the statistics on e-cigarette use, not just statewide but also within the county, are staggering.

“We knew that vaping was a problem, but not to the extent that it currently is,” Hudson said.

Data from the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows 27 percent of Colorado youth are using e-cigarettes. That rate is highest in the nation and more than twice the national average at 13 percent.

It gets worse in El Paso County — 44 percent of El Paso County youth have tried them. They are the second-most tried substance among county youth behind alcohol.

Furthermore, 85 percent of youth surveyed say they view smoking as a risky behavior. But when asked about vaping, only 47 percent believe vaping is risky.

“We’ve gotta somehow change these norms, and we do that through education and policy change,” Hudson said.

Hudson touted the decrease in youth cigarette smoking over recent years in the area as a method for change. The county health department worked closely with partners to raise awareness, and now they’re hoping to do the same with e-cigarettes.

She said the department is first focused on educating parents to help them understand what to look for in these e-cigarette devices, as well as the long-term effects they can have on young people.

They are also looking to work to change policies across the county, whether that means making it harder for youth to buy e-cigarettes or limiting the use of them at public places. Currently, the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act has no restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes indoors.

If you are looking for more education resources on e-cigarettes, you can visit the county’s tobacco prevention website here.