As the state health department continues investigating vaping-related illnesses and doubles down on preventing tobacco use among youths, local health agencies are also taking action. That includes the Tri-County Health Department, which serves roughly 1.5 million people in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
Tri-County's board on Oct. 15 adopted a resolution declaring youth vaping a crisis and laid out measures community members can take to combat the issue.
“Tri-County Health Department works to reduce the impact of tobacco by partnering with communities to provide tobacco prevention and cessation resources,” Executive Director John Douglas said in a statement. “We are expanding those evidence-based successes to fight our epidemic of youth vaping, including the recently recognized vaping associated acute lung disease.”
Douglas noted 27% of Colorado youths report vaping.
Alison Reidmohr, the Tobacco Communications Strategist with the state health department, said that is more than twice the national average and the highest in the nation.
“That level of nicotine exposure for young people who are in adolescence, whose brains are still in development, is really a cause for concern,” she said.
The department is frequently asked why Colorado's youth vaping rates are so high, Reidmohr said. One theory is that tobacco companies have historically used Colorado as a test market when pitching products.
“It's possible that vaping products have been marketed more heavily and longer in Colorado than other states," she said.
She added that Colorado is one of “only a handful of states” that don't license tobacco retailers, and that social norms may contribute to the epidemic. Vaping indoors wasn't banned in Colorado until July, when an update to the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect.
Reidmohr said her department supports local agencies in addressing youth vaping through technical support in drafting polices and with grant dollars.
The Tri-County Health Department in its resolution detailed how community members can curb youth vaping:
• School districts and schools should enforce tobacco-free policies. They should lean on restorative justice and alternatives to suspension, in order to keep students in school. Focus health education on life skills and decision making.
• Local governments should consider strong regulations on retailers. That could include licensing tobacco retailers, raising the minimum legal sales age and banning the sale of flavored tobacco or nicotine products.
Reidmohr said 19 Colorado communities have raised the legal sales age from 18 to 21, and 26 communities have passed local retail licensing regulations.
Parents should educate themselves and talk to their children openly about vaping. Youths can speak to their peers about coping with stress in healthy ways.
While Reidmohr's department works on preventions, other state officials are investigating vaping-related illnesses.
The public is urged against using any type of vaping product at this time, said Elyse Contreras, the state health department's lead epidemiologist investigating Colorado's cases in the outbreak.
There have been 11 reported cases of vaping-related illnesses in Colorado. Nine of those placed people in the hospital. There are more than 600 cases nationally. Symptoms include shortness of breath, trouble breathing, chest pain, coughing, fatigue and fever.
Federal agencies are investigating the illness' cause or causes, which remain unknown.
The state health department works with local communities to gather data on the outbreak, Contreras said. They urged health agencies and hospitals to look out for the illness and report any cases to the state department.
Contreras stressed anyone displaying symptoms should see their doctor.
“If they become sick, definitely hold on to the product for us to collect to send off for testing,” she said.
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