Sleek boxes that look akin to a USB drive, a pen filled with gel or a colorful triangle with rounded angles. At the press of a button, vapor that tasted like cotton candy and mango were accessible in one breath.
This generations’ nicotine inhalation may come in a new, shiny package, but NaNet Jenkins , manager for Healthy Hearts program and a research supervisor, said the tolls to users’ health and wallet still remain grave.
“They’re seeing their fellow students lose scholarships, get kicked off of sports teams and it’s such a distraction to their learning,” Jenkins said. “That’s where this all came from is how do we stop this epidemic? How do we get good research out to the masses.”
The message was conveyed Tuesday during an educational forum on teen vaping. The free first-time event took place at UCHealth Longs Peak, 1750 E. Ken Pratt. Healthy Hearts, a UCHealth educational program for youth, sponsored the event. Tuesday’s forum featured Healthy Futures, Boulder County Public Health; Tobacco Education and Prevention Project, Boulder County; St. Vrain Valley School District Health Services, as well as a panel of health professionals — all with the goal of sharing information on teen vaping.
“There was this big gap in people not knowing (about vaping) and a huge spike in usage,” Jenkins said.
According to Healthy Hearts, vaping use across northern Colorado high schoolers spiked from 9.5% in 2014 to 17.3% in 2019. The average age students first try vaping is 13.3. While the side effects of vaping are still being studied, Jenkins said evidence indicates the health toll is similar to that of cigarettes.
Short term, Jenkins said studies show vaping increases heart rate and blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels and lead to cholesterol build up. These effects, Jenkins said, are similar to the short-term impacts of smoking cigarettes, which leads her to suspect vaping and smoking could share long-term effects like heart attack and stroke.
With easy access to TV, social media and smart phones, escaping vape industry advertising is hard to do in this era Jenkins said.
In December, Boulder County announced it was joining forces to file a federal lawsuit against Juul Labs, Inc. The litigation alleges that the e-cigarette company targeted minors, spurring a public health crisis.
In response to the epidemic, the Federal Drug Administration issued a policy on Jan. 2 to abolish the manufacture of e-cigarette flavors, like fruit and mint.
During the panel Tuesday, Dr. Robert Janata , a pulmonologist, talked about some of the health detriments associated with vaping, including acute lung injury — a life-threatening condition where the lungs become inflamed and filled with fluid and gas. According to the Center for Disease Control, as of Jan. 21, there have been 60 deaths nationally from EVALI, a lung injury associated with vaping. Vitamin E acetate, an additive found in some THC e-cigarettes has been “strongly” linked to EVALI.
While some vaping is a better alternative to smoking cigarettes, Janata said it’s not true.
“I don’t think we can say that this is a safe alternative to cigarettes,” Janata said. “There’s no great medical data to say we should do this for smoking cessation. There are some people that substitute one for another. Yes, they came off cigarettes, but now they are hooked on vaping.”
Pausing at a booth, Jodi Menebroker , of Frederick. pulled on a latex glove to feel a tumor on a blackened pig lung — one of many exhibits. She wanted to learn more about vaping and the pressures teens may face to use the devices.
“I have a middle schooler and high schoolers and vaping is rampant in both levels,” Menebroker said. “Mostly, I wanted to learn what the health effects are.”
For Jenkins, helping adults have more information on vaping so they can help their children make informed decisions was the major goal, alongside debunking the myths.
“We still see a lot of parents seeing it’s safe and it’s so easy to hide,” Jenkins said. “Just to be able to know, identify and have an open conversation with (youth) and clear up misconceptions with parents who have heard it’s safe. No. It’s not safe, it might be safer, but are you willing to gamble on that?”