Is teen vaping an epidemic in Colorado? Experts say yes

Posted at 8:04 PM, Dec 05, 2018

DENVER, Colorado — Ask any Colorado teenager, and almost all will admit vaping is a problem among their peers.

"I think it's something that's pretty prevalent. To have 13-year-olds addicted to nicotine is pretty bad," said Colleen Campbell a senior at South High School.

"JUULing is the most popular one," said Abdi Bhandari, a senior at Mountain Vista High School.

An epidemic that has even gotten Governor John Hickenlooper's attention. He recently signed an executive order to urge state lawmakers to act to curb youth vaping.

Hickenlooper is asking them to raise the minimum age to buy e-cigarettes to 21 and to consider banning flavored tobacco.

"It is right now, one in four teenagers in Colorado that are vaping," Hickenlooper told students at a packed auditorium at South High School.

"It is becoming a huge national problem and it's even bigger locally," said Dr. Megan Moini, a pediatrician at Centura Health in Erie.

Moini is on the front lines of the vaping debate and said she has seen more and more teens get addicted to vaping.

"Boulder County, for example, has about three times the national average of vaping use among high schoolers," she said.

Moini also said she thinks it's time for the state to crackdown and believes teens are being fooled into thinking vaping is safe and natural.

"Hopefully, we're getting a hold of it sooner than we did with cigarettes," she said. "The advertisers know what they're doing."

Justin Zamora is a daily vape user and is also an employee at a local vape shop.

"I don't think it's fair because this is helping more people than it's hurting," he said.

From Zamora's perspective, underage vaping is like underage anything.

"I hate it because it's just like they're scrutinizing our industry when there's underage drinkers, there's underage weed smokers, there's underage tobacco smokers," he explained.

Zamora also said he has seen firsthand how vaping can help customers kick their cigarette habit.

"I've had customers come in reeking of cigarettes and then a couple weeks later they smell like vape coming in and they're like 'hey man' 'thank you'," he said.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released results of the Colorado Healthy Kids Survey earlier this year, which showed Colorado ranked the highest for youth vaping out of 37 states surveyed across the United States.

According to the survey, only 7 percent of high school students currently smoke cigarettes, while 27 percent said they vape nicotine. The statewide school survey shows 87 percent of Colorado high school students think cigarette smoking is risky, but only 50 percent believe those risks apply to vaping nicotine.

The CDPHE said a separate, more comprehensive state survey shows about half of Colorado high school students have tried vaping nicotine, don’t see it as risky and think vaping products are easy to get, even though it is illegal to purchase them as minors.

While no one seems to argue, teen vaping is a problem. It's what we do about it that's still creating controversy.