Teen vaping on the rise in Summit County
Park Record intern
When electronic cigarettes came out, they were billed as a healthier, environment-friendly and cheaper alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. However, former smokers are not the only ones taking advantage of vaping devices.
According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 1.7 million high school students in the United States have experimented with vaping. Not even Park City is immune. The Summit County Health Department warns that vaping is a rising trend among minors in Utah, with the number of youth users tripling since 2011. In Summit County, about one in five students in grades eight through 12 have tried vaping, and one in 10 are regular users. The data comes from an annual report published by Way To Quit, an organization dedicated to helping individuals give up tobacco and nicotine products.
Alyssa Mitchell, Summit County Health Department’s health educator, worries that young people think that vaping is harmless because it does not look, taste or smell like a regular cigarette.
However, she explained that, when a person vapes, they inhale some of the same chemicals found in a cigarette, which may be detrimental to a person’s health. Since vaping is a newer trend, medical professionals are unsure about what kind of long-term effects regular vapers may face. Medical studies, though, have suggested that vaping, while safer than traditional cigarettes, may lead to cell toxicity, fluid build-up, bleeding and further damage to the lungs.
“Because it’s chemicals and not just air, it’s irritating the lung cells so people can end up with lung issues,” Mitchell said.
Beau Maxon, the owner of The Park City Vapor Company, can attest to the increase in youth vaping, evidenced by the stack of fake IDs the store has collected from teenagers attempting to cheat the system. Maxon has instructed employees to notify the police after collecting a fake ID, as the possession of a fake ID in the state of Utah is considered a criminal offense. Maxon also said that anyone buying a large amount of product is questioned about their intentions in hopes of preventing an individual from selling to minors.
The issue of youth vaping has been exacerbated by the emergence of discrete devices that allow teens to vape without adults knowing. One such device, called a Juul, looks similar to a flash drive and contains pre-filled cartridges.
“A lot of teens are sneaking them into classrooms at schools and parents or teachers are caught off-guard because there’s not as much vapor breathed out and they look like flash drives so they’re hard to identify,” Mitchell said.
The second problem with the Juul is that it contains a very high amount of nicotine, Mitchell said. The increase in nicotine can lead to health problems.
“Because it’s so pleasurable, they’re inhaling more nicotine in one sitting than a regular cigarette,” Mitchell said.
Some teenagers in Park City who vape report being able to buy vaping devices from older siblings or from stores that do not require an ID. Devices are also available online. Websites, such as Juul.com or Vaping.com, request the customer’s personal information to confirm that a person is of legal buying age before an order may be processed. However, their measures are not foolproof.
“It is so easy to go online and either fake your age or put in your parent’s driver’s license info,” Mitchell said. She encourages parents to check their credit card accounts and Amazon accounts frequently for anything they may not recognize.
Another concern that Mitchell has is that many vape companies target young people with appealing e-liquid flavors. The flavorings often mislead students to think that vaping is safer than it really is.
“They claim that the flavorings are for adults but a 40-year-old smoker isn’t going to care if he has cotton candy-flavored vapor,” she said.
For now, Mitchell believes that education is the best way to combat the rise of teen vapers. She is hopeful that making adults aware of the issue will help reverse the trend.
“We need to really start educating parents about what these devices look like, how they are used, what terms surround it and what chemicals are inside,” she said.
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.