We ask Jill Bednarek, Tobacco Policy Supervisor at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, for her thoughts on what’s working, what continues to be a problem, and what should happen next to protect Colorado kids from the harmful effects of tobacco.
There are several really encouraging pieces of data in the 2019 survey but it also shows that there’s still a lot of work to be done. After decades of tobacco control efforts, cigarette use among high school youth is at an all-time low. Now we must tackle youth vaping.
In 2017 our state had the highest rate of youth vaping in the country. Colorado youth were vaping at nearly twice the rate of the national average (then 27% vs. 13.2%). Now, 2019 data show that Colorado youth are vaping significantly less than the national average (25.9% vs. 32.7%). We’re encouraged to see that vaping among youth has remained steady, meaning more young people aren’t vaping. But, one in four Colorado youth still vape today, which is far too many.
We also learned that kids understand that vaping is risky. Now, nearly three-quarters of youth understand that vaping is harmful. That’s up significantly from the previous survey. Among kids who are currently vaping, over half are trying to quit. These are promising indicators that mean we could start to see decreased youth vape use in the future.
There are several program components that are working together to prevent tobacco use and nicotine use among youth. The 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data led Colorado to take proactive measures to tackle youth vaping. CDPHE launched a statewide public education campaign to educate young people about the risks of vaping and a campaign to encourage parents, teachers, coaches and counselors to talk to youth about vaping.
Community-based efforts to reduce illegal sales of tobacco to kids have been another important strategy. Last year, Colorado banned vaping in indoor public places. The legislature recently raised the minimum legal sales age for all nicotine and tobacco products to 21 and all tobacco retailers in Colorado will need a license to sell tobacco products in 2021. Over time these efforts should reduce youth vape use.
Lastly, it’s important for youth to have access to free, confidential and non-judgmental services that can help them quit. Colorado’s QuitLine now serves young people as young as 12 and provides free coaching to stop or reduce vaping, smoking or chewing.
Parents and trusted adults are an important part in preventing tobacco use. Among Colorado youth who do not vape, 94% report their parents would think it is wrong to vape. This shows the impact of parent’s opinions. Talking to young people about the harm of tobacco in any form is important. Those conversations should start early in middle school and should continue throughout high school.
Young people who feel supported and have parents/trusted adults that they can go to for help are less likely to vape.
There are several policy initiatives that could be implemented now to reduce youth tobacco use. One, ensure all schools update their tobacco-free schools policies to include nicotine products and implement consistent enforcement. Restrict advertising of e-cigarettes, just as advertising of cigarettes to youth has been restricted for years. Three-quarters of kids tell us that they saw an ad for an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. The most common source is social media, where young people spend a lot of time. Banning all flavored products, including menthol, is also important. Flavors are used to entice youth and make them more appealing, and we have a number of youth who tell us they use these products because of the flavors.