COLORADO SPRINGS — Every school day, Palmer High School students walk across two blocks to get from the school building to the gymnasium. Along that walk, students pass a bakery, a couple homes and two businesses where vaping products are readily sold.
Both stores will say, they don’t sell the products, vaping or tobacco, to minors. The tattoo and smoke shop say, they don’t let anyone inside if they are under the age of 18.
The proximity, however, represents an environment some health experts say is too lax, given the epidemic of vaping in the country, particularly among teenagers.
“It’s clear that having local laws and local enforcement of those laws is the most effective way to limit access to these products for young people.” said Dr. Edward Maynard, a pediatrician and local representative of the national Tobacco 21 campaign.
The Tobacco 21 campaign is a national push to raise the age of sale for tobacco and nicotine to 21, instead of 18.
It’s one of a number of regulations Maynard said that can help combat teenage use of electronic tobacco and nicotine devices in the wake of nearly 400 people becoming sick and seven people dying from vaping-related illnesses, according the the Centers for Disease Control.
“Teens and young people are quite price-sensitive,” Maynard said. “Increases in taxes on cigarette products clearly are related in a decrease in use of cigarettes.”
In Colorado, because only tobacco is taxed, some vaping products are not. An effort to create a nicotine tax, that would have included all vaping products, failed in the state legislature in the spring of this year. It would have been the first increase since 2004 on those kinds of products.
“After ten years, it becomes less and less effective,” said Dacia Hudson, the tobacco education and prevention program manager for El Paso County Public Health. “So, where Colorado used to lead the country in the price of tobacco products, we’re now falling way behind.”
At the start of the year, El Paso County Commissioners, declared a public health emergency in response to the rising rates of teenagers using vaping products. The amount of teenagers who have tried vaping at least once has earned Colorado the unofficial title “Teen Vaping Capitol” of the U.S.
“It’s an accurate statement unfortunately,” Hudson said. “We do lead the country in teen vaping at 44 percent [who have tried it at least once] and that number is the same for our county in El Paso County.”
Hudson and Maynard believe increasing taxes and raising the age of legal sale are crucial and proven methods to lower the number of teenagers vaping, but it only goes so far. Local control, local regulations and local enforcement, they say, are just as important.
“You have to have a license to sell alcohol but, we don’t have to have a license to sell tobacco—the deadliest consumer product,” said Hudson.
Hudson warns to keep the aim of the regulations clear. With flavors like fruit, creme, mango and other candy-like tastes, she said, the target of vaping companies is clear and crack-down enforcement on minors possessing tobacco or nicotine products can be too much for kids.
“They’re just not an effective and proven strategy to prevent tobacco use among youth because they’re already targeted by the industry and we don’t want to introduce a child into the juvenile justice system for using a product that targets them and wants to get them hooked.” Hudson said.
In that regard, she said prevention is the most effective method, rather than trying to break a child’s addiction.
Vaping liquids contain chemicals for flavor and to create the vapor cloud when used. Maynard said there are also solvents and everything that comes in a vapor pod, doesn’t come with long-term research to know what the affects are.
“It’s pretty clear who that’s markets to,” Hudson added. “It’s marketed to kids. So we as a community have to decide, do we want our kids to be guinea pigs for these products because that’s essentially what’s happening.”