While a global pandemic is keeping Nevada’s communities focused on getting through the day without being infected with the COVID-19 virus, youths in the state are contributing to a skyrocketing vaping problem.
Vaping nicotine has increased among high school students from 15.5% in 2017 to 24.1% in 2019, the latest data shows. Its use is second only to alcohol as the most used substance among Nevada youth, and, nationally, far outpacing the use of other substances such as cigarettes, cannabis and non-medical use of prescription pain medication.
“Vaping wasn’t on our radar even 10 years ago,” said Jennifer Pearson, a vaping and tobacco policy expert from the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno. “So, when youths are drinking and vaping at the same rate, it shows how quickly vaping has become the choice of addiction.”
She also said early initiation is a problem here in the state. Some 3.6% of Nevada middle school students are using e-cigarettes before age 11. Among high school students, 7.5% used e-cigarettes before age 13.
This week, Pearson was joined at a panel discussion by a group of experts in tobacco-addiction prevention, including representatives from the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition (NTPC), Southern Nevada Health District and Washoe County Health District. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and Senator Julia Ratti co-hosted this virtual statewide conversation in partnership with the experts to recognize the threats of vaping on Nevada’s youth.
Impact of vaping
Among teens and youths, there are many incorrect beliefs about vaping: it is “purified” smoke because it gets filtered through water, the aerosol helps, or it is not as bad as cigarettes. But the robust medical research on vaping and e-cigarettes does not support any of these notions.
Until age 25, human brains continue to grow. Addiction among middle and high school students, who are still in the stages of brain development, can have negative consequences into the future, said Kelli Goatley-Seals, a health educator coordinator at WCHD and the current president of NTPC. As the brain learns addiction, these same youths are more likely to progress to smoking cigarettes and potentially catch a harder addiction later on, she added.
Aside from acquiring addiction as a learned behavior, Goatley-Seals said youths who develop addiction to substances such as e-cigarettes can also have mood swings, mood disorders, lowered impulse control and less ability to pay attention and learn.
Pearson’s research on vaping also draws a picture of what types of adolescents are more at-risk. Adolescents identifying as transgender consume vaping products (37.7%) more than students who identify as cisgender (21.9%). Youths suffering from depressive symptoms (31.8%) are more likely to vape than those without (15.9%). Also, lesbian, gay and bi-sexual students are more likely to vape than heterosexual students. About 40% of Nevada’s rural youths are vaping, nearly twice the rate as urban youths who vape.
Apart from social and psychological impacts, vaping has a serious physical impact, the experts said.
When doctors talk about cigarette and tobacco smoking, they think of cardiovascular disease. But vaping raises concerns over brain damage for young people whose brains are not fully developed, “laying a foundation for addiction and potential future risks,” said Goatley-Seals.
Scientists are still learning about the impact of vaping, but certain facts have become well established. “Aerosol can contain harmful chemicals and ultra-fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lung,” said Goatley-Seals.
She worries, as do other experts in her field, that current rates of vaping among youths are comparable to the 30% of Nevada youth, or 1-in-3, who were smoking cigarettes in the ’90s.
How are underage youths getting vaping products?
In 2019 the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act raised the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes and vaping devices to 21. The agency, along with the State of Nevada, provides guidance to prohibit youths from accessing tobacco and related products.
Despite this, about 35% of youths currently feel that it’s “very easy” to get vaping products. Many are buying them online or from gas stations.
“Either the ID is not legal, or they are not getting age-checked in the first place,” said Pearson.
About 49% of youths get vaping products from someone they know, she said.
According to researchers like Pearson, when youths feel that they can easily get a product, they will use it more often than other products they think are harder to obtain.
And youths can get creative when they want to hide their addiction from parents, guardians and teachers.
Malcolm Ahlo, tobacco control program coordinator from the Southern Nevada Health District, showed how easily students hide their vaping devices in plain sight using concealment devices designed to look like everyday objects: a hairbrush, Sharpie, bags and other items. Some companies have even designed clothing that conceals a vaping device and its use.
What should you do as a parent or friend?
The first step is to understand if your child might be addicted, said Ahlo. He provided guidelines for understanding the signs of vaping addiction.
- One of the tell-tale signs is increased thirst. Both nicotine addiction and nicotine withdrawal make people unusually thirsty.
- A new or sweet smell in the house can be a sign of vaping products being used as these products come with flavors of strawberry, cotton candy, mango, peppermint and more. Sometimes, the smell will stick to the youth’s clothing, car or bedroom.
- Increased nose bleeding is another sign. The vaping products dry out nasal cavities and the mouth, resulting in nosebleeds. For the same reason, kids may have excess coughing, which may manifest in a sore throat.
- Changing behavior and mood swings can be a sign.
So what can parents or concerned friends do to get help for someone addicted to vaping? Ahlo said that it’s important that parents are not confrontational with their children when talking about their vaping habits.
“Educate them on the dangers both short term and long term … Don’t use scare tactics.” Also, when having these conversations, make sure to have them in “comfortable environments,” be open and listen to your children, he said.
Parents can consult a website called https://www.letstalkvaping.com/ to understand how to initiate conversations around vaping.
Teens who want to quit can text “Start my Quit” to 36072 or call 1-800-Quit-Now from a Nevada area code.
Parents, guardians and adults who are struggling with the same addiction should quit to set a better example for their children. They can text “1-800-Quit-Now” or call 1-800-7848-669. This service is free and confidential.
Useful website: https://nevada.quitlogix.org/en-US/