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Vaping, e-cigarette use up sharply among teens

In this Tuesday, April 10, 2018 photo Marshfield High School Principal Robert Keuther displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students.(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

SALT LAKE CITY — Teens in the U.S. are now vaping in record numbers. And often, they are hiding it.

They are using e-cigarettes designed to be easily concealed in a sleeve or pocket so they can be used during class, according to Ryan Bartlett with the state’s Tobacco and Prevention Control Program.

“One product, Juul, is designed to look like a USB flash drive, so people don’t immediately recognize it as an e-cigarette,” Bartlett says. “So high school students can sneak it into their classrooms and such.”

Another e-cigarette on the market looks like a pen.

Vaping has been on the rise in Utah since 2013. New national numbers from a University of Michigan survey show twice as many high schoolers are trying e-cigs since last year. It’s the largest year-over-year increase in the 44 year history of the annual survey.

One in five 12th graders and one in ten 8th graders have vaped, according to the survey. Vaping of marijuana also grew. About one in 17 high school seniors say they use pot every day.

But there is some good news to report. Significantly fewer teens used opioids, tobacco and alcohol this year.

In Utah, more than 10 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes, even though the use of traditional cigarettes has dropped 57 percent among Utah high schoolers since 1999.

e-cigarette vaping report

Source: Utah Department of Health and Utah Department of Human Services SHARP (Student Health and Risk Prevention) Survey

Bartlett says parents may want to ask their kids directly about vaping and e-cigarettes, because of the high nicotine content and potential for addiction.

“For example the Juul e-cigarette, one pod contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes. So it’s easy to become addicted to e-cigarettes,” Bartlett says.

However, vaping industry officials in Utah say they are very clear about keeping these products out of the hands of minors. Juan Bravo, president of the Utah Vapor Business Association, says members of his organization are adamant about it.

“These are adult products for adults,” he said, adding that his stores have ID scanners that they use twice prior to a sale being made.

He thinks teens are getting them from older young adults, or from adults, or they’ll take them from parents or from other people. He also says gas stations and convenience stores are more lenient. And while it is illegal to buy the products online in Utah, Bravo says plenty of online marketplace groups advertise how to meet and buy and sell or swap them.

Juul Labs also expressed concern about teens getting their hands on the product.

“JUUL Labs is committed to preventing youth from initiating on nicotine. As we said before, our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products,” said spokesperson Ted Kwong in a written statement. “But intent is not enough, we must act to solve this problem which is why we are implementing the JUUL Labs Action Plan to address underage use of JUUL products.

“We stopped the distribution of certain flavored JUULpods to retail stores as of November 17, 2018, strengthened the age verification of our Web site, eliminated our Facebook and Instagram accounts and are developing new technology to further limit youth access. We are committed to working with FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in this effort.”

Bartlett says another report will be released on Tuesday from the US Surgeon General with more information on these trends.

Earlier this year, KSL Newsradio did a series of reports on vaping in Utah. You can read more here.