A recent study points to a notable increase in the number of teens nationwide who have taken up vaping – larger than any jumps in the use of marijuana or other substances.
One in 10 eighth-graders say they vaped nicotine the past year, while 37 percent of 12-graders said they had done so, up 10 percentage points over the previous year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
And although statistics for El Paso are not readily available, area health experts believe the borderland is no different as more and more youth are attracted to the electronic cigarette trend.
Vaping among teens has become a concern because of the misconceptions that surround e-cigarettes mainly, that they’re safe and non-addictive, area experts said.
El Paso Inc. talked with Michael Kelly, vice president for programs at the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, about teen vaping in the region.
Q: Why is the concern centered around teens?
Here’s the deal. Most adults do not pick up cigarettes and think it is good idea to start smoking, whether that’s electronic or lit with a lighter.
Adults very seldom pick up electric cigarettes and start. People start smoking when they are young, many times under the age of 20, many under 18, many under 16.
The reason they continue into adulthood is because the product is addictive.
Q: What attracts teens to vaping?
So they start as a kid because they think it’s cool, or they want to fit in, or they don’t want to fit in. They all have different reasons.
But they think they are going to quit one day. And they can’t because nicotine, which is in electronic delivery devices as well as cigarettes, is addictive.
Part of this, too, is that cigarettes burn at a much higher temperature. You light it on fire, and the thing is actually on fire in your mouth, and when you breathe the smoke, it can be pretty hot, and with the first few puffs you can choke. You have to learn how to do it.
But the pods in the vaping, they vaporize the oils at a much lower temperature, which means kids can suck on these things and not choke, not feel burning in the throat. So it becomes an easier device for youth to pick up.
Q: Why is it hard to detect if teens are vaping?
They don’t smell a whole lot. So with people who smoke traditional cigarettes, it’s on their clothes, and teeth and hair. So you can tell if a kid went out to smoke at lunchtime because they smell like a cigarette when they get back to school. E-cigarettes don’t have that strong odor. Some of them are sweet. You can buy cherry flavor and things like that. But it doesn’t leave the smell.
Q: And there’s no carrying around a pack of smokes or rolling paper.
The e-cigarette itself has a tank. Those are easier to spot.
Some of these things don’t even look like they are dangerous. They look like USBs, and you see a kid carrying it around their neck, and you think, ‘Oh what a nice kid, he’s carrying his homework around on his thumb drive.’ And he’s not – he’s smoking it.
Q: What are teens vaping?
In El Paso, you can get hemp oil, or marijuana oil, so you can get CBD (non psychoactive part of marijuana) oils legally from any vape shop.
In New Mexico, they actually sell the oils that have THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis) in them, the psychoactive substance.
So these kids are smoking marijuana in e-cigarettes, and it doesn’t stink. They don’t have to carry around paper, and there is no marijuana buds or leaves. It’s just a little bit of oil.
Q: Why are we seeing a spike in vaping among teens?
It’s a lot of things. Decent price point. Availability. It’s marketing. It’s kids not wanting to smoke a cigarette and feeling this may be safer.
Q: Can you smoke e-cigarettes in public places in El Paso?
In El Paso, we have helped the city craft an ordinance and led the charge in the old smoking ordinance in 2000. We’ve updated the ordinance now to make it illegal to smoke electronic cigarettes inside restaurants, any inside place, and the ordinance also extends to public parks.
Q: What else needs needs to get done?
We need a good education campaign for adults because there are too many adults who don’t even know what these electronic cigarettes are like, what they look like, how they work, their dangers. We all know cigarettes. But we don’t know electronic cigarettes.
Q: Is the age requirement an issue?
We need to raise the age to buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21 inside the city. Right now it is 18.
The state of Texas is looking at this at next session in Austin, and if it passes at the state level, then there’s no reason to do it at the city level. But we already have the mock ordinance ready to go.