Vaping is on the rise;

Vaping devices are difficult to detect because many are designed to look like everyday objects including pens or USB drives for computers.

Sublette County is not immune

BIG PINEY – The U.S. Food and Drug

Administration announced in November

that teenage use of e-cigarettes caused

an “uptick in overall tobacco use” in

2018, a trend that is “reversing previous

declines.” The statement came with the

recent release of the National Youth Tobacco

Survey that showed an alarming 78

percent increase in e-cigarette use among

high school students from 2017 to 2018.

According to the survey, 20.8 percent

of high school students used e-cigarettes

in 2018, up from 11.7 percent in 2017

and only 1.5 percent in 2011. The overall

rate of tobacco use among high school

students rose to a four-year high of 27.1

percent in 2018.

These statistics led the American Medical

Association to call the rise in teenage

vaping an “epidemic” in a press release

on Nov. 19. The FDA also announced a

“sweeping anti-tobacco effort” to “reduce

underage vaping,” the Washington Post

reported on Nov. 15.

The FDA’s proposals include banning

menthol in cigarettes and cigars and prohibiting

the sale of e-cigarettes to stores

that do not restrict underage entry or have

areas that are not accessible to people

under 18. The FDA also pledged to “step

up age verification” for online sales of ecigarettes.

Hitting home

Sublette County School District No.

9 School Resource Officer Deputy Ryan

Day said that the prevalence of vaping in

Sublette County “blindsided him.”

“We’re scrambling to catch up with

this problem,” he said. “A good chunk of

our kids are doing it (vaping). We had to

do something. Kids are vaping in locker

rooms, busses and even hallways. You

can’t always detect it.”

Tonia Hoffman, school nurse for the

district, said that vaping is “easy to hide”

because the small amount of vapor released

is odorless and does not hang in

the air like cigarette smoke. Kids on a bus

or in the locker room can vape under a

blanket or hoodie without detection, Hoffman


Another problem is that e-cigarette

companies design vaping cartridges to

look like ordinary, harmless items like

USB ports or pens instead of traditional

cigarettes, Day said.

“What’s amazing is how (vaping companies)

designed these devices to not look

like what they are,” he said.

Verifying the exact number of students

who are vaping is a challenge. Hoffman

and Day developed a survey with Public

Health Prevention Coordinator Trisha

Courtesy photos

Vaping devices are difficult to detect because many are designed to look like

everyday objects including pens or USB drives for computers.

Vaping is on the rise; Sublette County is not immune

By Robert Galbreath, [email protected]

Scott that was administered to ninth graders

in the district in October.

The survey was anonymous and students

were self-reporting, Scott said.

Thirty-six freshmen responded and 77.3

percent answered “no” to the question

“have you tried vaping” while 9.1 percent

responded “yes” and 13.6 preferred not to


But Hoffman estimates that the actual

numbers of students vaping at the high

school is probably between 50 and 60

percent, based on conversations with students

and “keeping an ear to the ground”

in school hallways.

Marketing to minors

Companies that market and produce

vaping items often advertise their products

as alternatives to cigarettes for adults

who are struggling with nicotine addictions.

Hoffman and Day, however, believe

that these companies actively promote

vaping to young people. The vaping companies

deny this on their websites.

Vapes come in a variety of flavors

such as mint, candy, fruit and chocolate

that make them more appealing than traditional

cigarettes, the Federal Drug Administration

states. According to a survey

done by the agency in 2013-2014, 81 percent

of “current youth e-cigarette users”

cited the “availability of appealing flavors”

as a primary reason for use.

The attractive smells and flavors make

vapes “seem like a treat” to young people,

Hoffman said. She added that some vapes

advertise as nicotine-free and contain

melatonin and caffeine instead. Vaping

cartridges can even be used with synthetic

marijuana without anyone’s knowledge,

Hoffman stated.

“The e-cigarette companies are targeting

youth just like Joe Camel did with

cigarettes in the ’90s,” Day said.

E-cigarettes and vaping equipment are

easy to find.

“You can walk into just about any gas

station and purchase vapes,” Day said.

These items are also readily available

to order online. Companies like JUUL

have a pop-up on their website for customers

to verify that they are over 18. But

Day wonders how companies can verify

someone’s age across the Internet.

Day added that vaping frequently

makes its way to schools when students

over 18 legally purchase them and bring

them onto school grounds.

“My belief is that most kids get vapes

from students who are of (legal) age,” he


Bad health

Both Day and Hoffman said that vaping

and e-cigarettes are relatively new

phenomena. As a result, scientists don’t

yet know all the long-term affects vaping

may have on a young person’s health.

Vapes do not contain the “horrific

levels of tar” found in cigarettes, Hoffman

said, but they do usually contain an

amount of nicotine that is “not negligible.”

And nicotine often leads to cravings

for more.

“Nicotine is highly addictive and can

harm brain development, which continues

until about age 25,” the Centers for Disease

Control states.

Day explained that nicotine creates

pleasure by releasing dopamine into the

brain. This “motivates” the brain to want

to use again and again, he said.

Nicotine is a “possible door” to other

addictions, Day warned. The National Institute

on Drug Abuse cites several studies

that young people who use e-cigarettes are

up to “seven times more likely” to smoke

regular cigarettes in the future than young

people who did not use e-cigarettes.

The aerosol released by vaping also

contains a myriad of chemicals that can

cause health problems down the road. Day

said vaping aerosols may contain formaldahyde,

a chemical used to “preserve dead

things.” Vapes may also have diacetyl, a

flavoring agent that is known to cause

“popcorn lung,” he said.

Despite common perceptions that ecigarettes

and vaping are safe alternatives

to quit smoking, they are not approved by

the FDA as an aid to quit smoking.


E-cigarettes and vaping in any form are

against school policy and are not allowed

on school property, Day said. Students

caught vaping may have to take a course

on vaping and write an essay as part of the

school’s disciplinary policy, he said.

If a devise contains nicotine and is used

by a student under 18, that student can also

face criminal charges. The school district

has machines that can test vaping devices

for nicotine, Day said, and students can be

charged as a minor in possession.

But Hoffman and Day said that a large

part of their job is educating young people

on the known health effects of vaping and

to help them make the right choices. Day

added that the district is not just about discipline

and will work to help students find

resources to quit vaping.

“We want to let them know that doors

are open out there,” he said.

Hoffman and Day said the district is

organizing classes on vaping and presentations

to educate parents, students and

staff about the dangers and how to detect


Ultimately, the issue comes down to

the value of a student’s health and wellbeing.

“There are chemicals in vapes that will

kill you,” Day said. “We only have one

body. Make the right choice with it.”

In the past month, Sublette County

Commissioners added e-cigarettes and

vaping devices to the existing smoking

policy that bans use in all county buildings

and vehicles.


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