We asked Mandy Ivanov, the Policy and Partnerships Strategist at Eagle County Public Health, for her thoughts on what has been working in her region to better protect kids from the harmful effects of tobacco.
We are excited by some of the trends we are seeing in some of our 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado survey data, here in the Eagle River Valley. In 2017 we were actually a region within the state and nation that had one of the highest youth vaping rates. And so we were pleased that in 2019, we saw a significant decline in the percentage of high school youth who reported vaping, down about 10 percent, while there wasn’t as significant a change in vaping statewide. Our valley also saw a dramatic decrease between 2017 and 2019 in the number of underage youth who reported buying their own tobacco products from a brick-and-mortar store. And underage youth here who attempted to buy a tobacco product were more likely to report they were refused that purchase compared to the rest of the state. And finally, in this region, more than 62 percent of youth who reported vaping also reported trying to quit within the past year, which is again a higher percentage than what the statewide average is.
After Aspen implemented the first comprehensive tobacco retail policies in the state of Colorado back in January of 2018, the movement quickly spread throughout our region. Local youth and elected officials recognized the extent of harm vaping was causing, and so they worked with Public Health to address it at a policy level to have the broadest impact. At the same time, we worked with schools to implement more up-to-date tobacco prevention programming to include vaping, and we hosted education nights for adults and other community members. Then by November of 2019, when the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey was administered, almost every municipality in Eagle County and the county itself had a comprehensive tobacco retail license in place.
Local action will always remain critical, especially in rural regions of the state where we often don’t see state enforcement of state policies at a consistent level, just due to stretched resources and geography and capacity challenges. Local licenses also allow for quicker and more meaningful action to ensure local compliance, and while the state license is fairly comprehensive, there are still gaps that can be addressed through local licensing, such as banning flavored tobacco products that are designed to hook kids. And as we know through experience, local response to emerging trends and tobacco products is swifter than the state. And by taking local action, communities demonstrate their commitment and establish a precedent to keep youth and their local populations protected from the harms of tobacco and the tobacco industry no matter what shape that takes in the future.