My youngest is a freshman at a public high school in Longmont, Colorado. So far, so good, she’s on the volleyball team and making friends in all her classes. She went to her first high school football game a week or two ago and there were a group of kids hiding behind the bleachers vaping. Her friend warned her, “don’t go over there, coach will get mad!”
I asked her later about how many kids at the school are vaping and how many sneak JUULs on campus during the day. She said “probably quite a lot” even though she doesn’t see much of it happening. Since e-cigarettes are also banned on campus, students definitely keep it on the down-low to avoid getting busted.
That’s the tip of the iceberg with Colorado children and vaping, though, and that tip is looking pretty bad. Turns out that according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, Colorado kids are vaping at twice the national average. In fact, more kids in my home state vape than in any of the other 37 states included in the latest US Centers for Disease Control survey.
What the actual heck? First off, let’s define vaping, because I think there’s a widespread misconception about what it is. A vaping device lets you inhale chemicals in a vaporized liquid so it offers the kinesthetic experience of smoking a cigarette without the burning ash. Instead, it’s just a tiny electronic device [JUULs are infamous for looking like a USB flash drive, see picture below!] that produces vaporized liquid. You can then put in hundreds of different chemical stews to achieve the flavor, effect and results you seek.
Sounds fairly benign, but it’s really not because of the potential for abuse. Cannabis users have found vaping a simple and portable way to consume marijuana, for example. But more dangerous is that the most of the popular vaping “brews”, JUULPods, contain nicotine and that nicotine has long since been shown to be addictive, harmful to our health and in particular, to adolescent brain development.
And yet for most kids, there’s a perception that cigarettes are uncool, but vaping is cool, safe and healthy. 7% of high school students currently smoke cigarettes, for example, but a staggering 27% vape. 87% of high school students think cigarettes are risky, but only 50% think those risks also apply to vaping nicotine. Tip: They do. 100%.
Ultimately, like anything else, it’s up to us parents to inform our children about health risks and do our best to keep them healthy. We also need to lead by example because even in their teens, our children are closely watching our behaviors and making judgments about what is acceptable behavior based on what we do, not what we say. If you’re vaping, well, you might want to talk to your doctor about health risks, but you also need to be aware of the fact that you’re tacitly telling your highly impressionable children that it’s okay to vape.
Keep in mind that nicotine has a negative effect on adolescent brain development and that it causes lasting cognitive and behavioral impairment, including damaging their ability to pay attention and remember things.
The Colorado State Department of Public Health and Environment has a bunch of really useful information for you to educate yourself about vaping health risks, and some materials suitable for your high school child too. Don’t shrug your shoulders, don’t say “kids try stupid stuff”. Just click on a link or two and learn how you can help improve Colorado’s embarrassing position at the top of the vaping list. Start at TobaccoFreeCO.org with these two articles: Vaping Myths vs Facts and a super handy tip sheet on Talking to Youth about Vaping.
We live in a beautiful state with amazing outdoor activity options and the Rocky Mountains. Let’s make sure our kids are healthy enough to enjoy everything the state has to offer!
Disclosure: This post was subsidized by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but I feel very strongly about children’s health and lifestyle choices anyway and all opinions expressed within are definitely my own.