Idaho teen vaping on the decline, but national popularity prompts concern
Though education surveys show vaping use is down among Idaho high school students, health officials are concerned about vaping’s rising popularity among teens nationwide.
According to the 2017 Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the Idaho Department of Education, 41 percent of high school students claim to have used vaporized nicotine in their lifetime, while 28 percent claimed to have smoked a cigarette.
Roughly 14 percent said they’d vaped within the 30 days leading up to the survey date.
Vaping and smoking rates among Idaho teens were down from the previous survey in 2015, in which 45 percent of respondents reported having vaped and 31 percent reportedly smoked a cigarette in their lifetime.
While vaping is prohibited in schools, neither the Boise School District nor West Ada School District has any formal campaigns or efforts to curb vape usage among students. Both school districts list vaporized nicotine devices as prohibited under student policy handbooks, and possession of such items will result in disciplinary action.
Sofi Serio, a senior at Boise High School, said while it’s against the rules, it’s still a prevalent issue in her school.
“I don’t vape myself,” she said. “I’ve noticed a lot more kids in the bathroom and even in class when teachers aren’t looking.”
For many, Serio said, it’s a sign of social status.
“If you have a vape pod you’re considered ‘cool,’” Serio said.
In her experience, cigarettes are almost non-existent at Boise High, but the kids who drink and do drugs regularly vape, too.
“I see it a lot more in the kids that aren’t academically pushing themselves,” she said.
Serio’s observation lines up with the Idaho Youth Risk Behavior survey, which noted that students who report vaping regularly also report getting lower grades.
Serio works for the school newspaper, which reported last fall that the school resource officer had confiscated multiple vape devices.
She said she’s never been offered any vape products, but in her experience students obtain them through other students.
Results of the state’s latest youth survey are not yet available, and even though usage dropped between the two previous surveys, a representative from the Idaho Health and Welfare Department said the recent uptick in use of the popular Juul vaporizer may show increased rates of teen usage.
JamieLou Delavan, a program specialist for Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said youth vaping levels are roughly what smoking was at its peak.
“(Smoking) was very cool, it was a way of showing independence,” Delavan said. “Electronic cigarettes are now that.”
Part of the issue, Delavan said, is electronic cigarettes are being marketed toward young people, similarly to how cigarettes were years ago.
“If you look at the history of marketing tobacco products and you compare that with the marketing that is happening now with electronic cigarettes, it is very much the same,” she said.
Juul, a popular manufacturer of electronic cigarettes, is facing multiple lawsuits for marketing to a younger demographic. The plaintiffs in the suits range from a 14-year-old to adult users who claim the product caused a nicotine addiction, according to a report from The Washington Post.
Juul generates roughly 68 percent of vaporized nicotine sales, and the Silicon Valley company is valued at $15 billion, according to The Washington Post.
Juul spokesperson Victoria Davis told The Washington Post the company does not believe the lawsuits have any merit and plans to fight them.
The heart of the lawsuit is the varied flavors Juul offers, including sweet options such as mango or cotton candy. The only cigarette flavor allowed by the Food and Drug Administration is menthol, Delavan said.
While many vaporizer devices are larger and produce large clouds of vapor, the Juul device is much smaller and resembles a flash drive, which Delavan said could be confusing to parents.
“It’s not easily recognizable by adults who don’t know what they’re looking at,” she said.
There is little information available about the potential health effects caused by vaporized nicotine, because it has not been on the market long enough to measure those, Delavan said.
However, nicotine can have adverse effects on developing brains, Delavan said.
“It affects how you can concentrate, your learning abilities and your attention span,” she said. Additionally, Delavan said 36.5 percent of respondents to the survey said they believed vaporized nicotine to be safe.
While vaporized nicotine is often seen as a tobacco cessation option, its effectiveness is questionable, Delavan said.
“We know that there’s evidence, or there’s data that shows that people who switch to electronic cigarettes often end up doing dual use,” Delavan said.
Even for adult smokers wishing to quit, Delavan suggests they turn to other options such as nicotine patches or lozenges, which are approved by the FDA.
PREVENTING YOUTH SALES
Like tobacco products, all nicotine vapor products are restricted to people 18 years or older. However, Delavan said the most common source for underage kids is friends or family.
To curb that, Vape, a chain vaporizer shop with multiple locations in Boise, has put some safeguards in place.
“What we usually look for is how many people are in the car as well as get a feel for the situation,” said Gideon Messenger, an assistant manager at a Boise Vape location.
Messenger said the company policy is to ask for identification from all customers who look younger than 27.
Additionally, if a group comes in, they’ll ask for identification from the entire group.
Teens age 18 or 19 make up a small portion of the shop’s sales, Messenger said.
“A majority of our customers are people actually quitting smoking,” he said. “I’d probably say about 25 to 30 percent of our customers are teens.”
Store attendants will also talk to newer customers about the nicotine content, as it varies depending on the device and the type of nicotine level in the liquid loaded into the device.
“We do our best to make sure underage kids aren’t getting their hands on anything vape-related,” Messenger said.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, vaporized nicotine saw a dramatic uptick from 2017 to 2018 nationwide.
The institute reports that in 2018, 37.3 percent of high school seniors reported to have used vaporized nicotine in the last year, as opposed to 27.8 percent in 2017.
Additionally, boys are twice as likely to start using vaporized nicotine as girls, the institute reported. That same trend was seen in Idaho’s student survey.
In Idaho, 24.3 percent of high school senior boys and 21 percent of high school senior girls reported having vaped 30 days prior to the survey in 2017, according to the Idaho Youth Risk Behavior survey. Information was not available about Idaho teen vape use in the year prior to the survey.
According to the Associated Press, national health officials are calling vaping an “epidemic” among youth.
Vaporized nicotine use has surpassed cigarettes, marijuana and other substances as the most used substance by high school students, according the AP.
The trick for officials is figuring out how to get youth to kick the habit.
While many smoking cessation products such as nicotine gum and patches are approved by the FDA for adults, that’s not the case for youth, according to the AP.
“Teenagers have their own ideas of what might work for them, and they’re going to do what they do,” Susanne Tanski, a tobacco prevention expert with the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the AP. “But we desperately need studies to figure out what’s going to work with this population.”
“It’s frightening for me as a pediatrician because I really feel like there’s this uncontrolled experiment happening with our young people,” Tanski said. “They don’t perceive the harm, and we can’t show them what it’s going to be.”