Special series: Vaping in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — More teens in Utah are trying e-cigarettes, and there’s concern that they will be more likely to take up regular smoking and get addicted.
But the growing vaping industry says e-cigarettes are a way for adults to quit regular smoking.
“The internal battery is more easily concealable from parents,” said Linnea Fletcher, who tracks these trends at the Utah County Health Department.
“Most of it is sold online and that’s how most of these are getting it,” she said.
The Truth Initiative says 25 percent of 15-24-year-old JUUL users do not identify their behavior as vaping, instead referring to it as “JUULing.”
And schools in Utah are starting to see the devices, though teens may not know what they are doing.
Health officials say many just think they are vaping flavored liquids. 37 percent of teen and young adult JUUL users are uncertain whether the product contains nicotine.
“But with the Juul, it always contains nicotine,” said Fletcher, adding nicotine is what causes teen brains to become addicted.
Some teens say they don’t think e-cigarettes are as bad as the real thing, and they think they look cool and taste good.
15-year-old Via says she vapes strawberry or mango.
“The flavor is good,” she said.
Kierra started using e-cigarettes at age 16.
“You can smoke them anywhere, it doesn’t smell, it’s vapor,” she said.
In 2015, youth use of e-cigarettes in Utah was 10.5 percent. In 2017 it’s at 11.1 percent.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing some growth in that area,” said Brittany Karzen, who leads the anti-smoking and tobacco prevention program at the Utah Department of Health.
Since 2011, Utah youth use rates have tripled, despite the law prohibiting sales to minors.
The health department also says youth more likely to use e-cigarettes than any other tobacco product on the market.
“And that’s a concern because they contain nicotine, and nicotine is bad for developing brain,” said Karzen.
“We also know that teens who use e-cigs are more likely to try other risk behaviors,” she said.
Karzen says look for new prevention efforts aimed at parents and schools coming later this spring.
The e-cigarette industry insists their products are not a gateway to regular tobacco. But scientists are finding otherwise.
“The jury is out about whether e-cigarettes directly cause cancer, but we do know that people who use them are 3 times more likely to transition to cancer-causing tobacco cigarettes, than people who don’t use e-cigarettes,” said Dr. John Heymach with the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
The National Academy of Sciences announced recently that vaping can be addictive and may lure teenagers to smoking.
And the University of Michigan found teens were 6 to 7 times more likely to pick up regular smoking a year later.
A main concern for Brittany Karzen at the Utah Department of Health is that nicotine changes the teen brain and makes it more prone to addiction in the future, and risky behaviors.
“If a youth is willing to try e-cigarettes, they may also be willing to drink or these other things we are concerned about youth engaging in,” she said.
Utah lawmakers are working to regulate e-cigarettes industry in Utah, but the industry is growing rapidly, and fighting back.
Different bills have tried to address e-cigarette labeling, regulation, ingredients, and access to minors.
“Not a single state who has fought longer or harder or faced a bigger attack against the industry than here in Utah,” said Aaron Frazier with the Utah Smoke-Free Association at the end of last year’s session.
But Utah Poison Control executive director Barbara Crouch worries about children.
“The problem is for a small child, a mouthful or less is enough nicotine to cause serious problems,” she said. “The other concern we have is what else may go into these products that may get sold.”
See their report here.
Some 40 Utahns recently experienced side effects after vaping what they thought was synthetic cannabinoid oil, but it wasn’t.
A new study from the National Academy of Sciences found e-liquids and the aerosol in the vape both contain toxins and can be carcinogenic, although lower than conventional cigarettes.
That same study also said e-cigarettes could lead adult smokers to quit regular cigarettes.
“For every brand of e-liquid that disappears from the shelves, there are hundreds of vapers who will likely return to smoking,” said Frazier.
16-year-old Kierra switched from smoking to vaping because she says she thinks it’s healthier.
“And instead of buying a pack of cigarettes every day for 7 or 8 dollars, I buy a 10-milliliter bottle of e-cig liquid every two weeks for 8 dollars,” she said.
The adult cigarette use rate is down. It’s now at 8.7 percent, according to the Utah Department of Health.
At the same time, e-cigarette products are exploding in growth. Six years ago, there was one vape shop in Utah. Now there are around 100.
Aaron Frazier with the Utah Smoke-Free Association calls them small business owners who are helping smokers quit.
“The landscape of this industry has completely changed,” he said.
But it doesn’t seem that smokers are moving all the way to from tobacco cigarettes to nicotine e-cigs.
“We know 36.7 percent of those who vape in Utah also smoke. That’s dual use,” said Brittany Karzen with the Utah Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.
“If you do choose to use an e-cig, science says quit cigarettes completely and move completely over, to reap any benefit from the process,” she said.
Linnea Fletcher with the Utah County Department of health agrees.
“Electronic cigarettes are not approved FDA cessation devices to help adults stop smoking. We recommend they taper down, and are not just switching from one addiction to the next,” said Fletcher.
She says adults can choose what they do, but health officials want to protect kids and youth.
“They are our main concern,” said Fletcher.
Karzen recommends FDA approved products and ways to quit, found at http://waytoquit.org/, like patches, gum, lozenges, and calling a quit line or getting coaching. These ways will make a person 2 to 3 times more likely to quit successfully.
“It’s a hard habit to kick. We need to be more supportive of those wanting to quit,” she said.
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