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.
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
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,
“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
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
“Nicotine is highly addictive and can
harm brain development, which continues
until about age 25,” the Centers for Disease
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