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The Colorado Department of Health is sharing discouraging news about the depth of our state’s teen e-cigarette use, commonly referred to as vaping. A look at the department's just released bi-annual Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows more than a quarter of teens admit to smoking liquid nicotine in the last 30 days. Even more troubling, the prevalence of teen vaping in Boulder County is slightly higher, at 27%. Overall, the trend statewide hasn't changed significantly since 2015 — meaning education on the negative impacts of nicotine has little effect on our kids.
In the era of COVID-19, epidemic levels of youth vaping come with an elevated cause for concern. New research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found teens and young adults who vaped were as much as seven times more likely to contract COVID-19. The research also suggests an elevated concern for public health with vapor plumes from an infected smoker being easily inhaled by those in proximity and potentially making them sick. This news is the latest in a long list of health risks incurred by teen vapers.
Because our brains don't fully develop until our mid-20s, nicotine use during adolescence increases the risk of developing cognitive impairment later in life and attention deficits. Nicotine also impairs immunity, making infections more likely, and could lead to a worse case of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control has also connected vaping to a lung injury called E-cigarette or Vaping Use-Associated Lung Injury, or EVALI.
Quitting the habit can be easier said than done. Many times, liquid nicotine users start experiencing physical dependence within only a few weeks. With extra-strength cartridges and the ability to increase device voltage, many teens are unknowingly inhaling significantly more nicotine than traditional tobacco products. Teens and parents alike also should be aware this drug can be very addictive, as addictive as heroin and cocaine. It's essential to be mindful that cracking nicotine's hold takes an empathetic approach.
Statewide infection rates demonstrate a large percentage of those sick with COVID-19 are Coloradoans in their teens and 20s. As we head back to the classroom, anyone with influence can help shift these negative numbers and impact the vaping trend by keeping our kids informed and being a voice of support. Your family doctor can help suggest strategies and even prescribe medication to help ease side effects and cravings. A few techniques I recommend include learning deep breathing relaxation exercises and identifying a few favorite go-to activities to use as a distraction. The feel-good hormones released with physical activity also can curb stress, and while cravings can be challenging, they don't last more than a few minutes. Having something like a fidget-spinner, Rubik's Cube, or mobile game can help until the craving passes. The Colorado Quitline is another resource, providing free help to any residents 15 and older.
The bottom line, not that we ever needed another reason to convince Colorado's youth to kick the habit, with the pandemic and associated public health concerns, now is the time. Colorado needs healthy kids to flourish.
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