Health officials in Pasco County are concerned about rising numbers of local teens who are using electronic cigarettes, or vaping.
Last year, about 25 percent of Florida high school students reported current use of electronic vaping, according to the Florida Department of Health. That marked a staggering 58 percent increase compared to 2017.
The figures might be even higher in Pasco County, according to Jenae Haddocks, a health educator with the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County.
“What we’re seeing is Pasco is above average as far as youth initiation in e-cigs and vape use, and above state average for that, so that’s not good,” Haddocks said at a recent community meeting hosted by the Pasco Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) at Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park.
“We’re having a hard time trying to address it,” she added.
Exacerbating the vaping issue, Haddocks said, is a lack of oversight by e-cigarette retailers, along with a lack of regulation on e-cig products and flavors by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Haddocks pointed out e-cigs and related products can be purchased online with minimal or no type of age verification. “Kids can go online and purchase these products. It’s kind of surprising,” she said.
E-cigarette devices heat a liquid that produces an aerosol, or vapor. That liquid usually contains nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals.
Long-term health effects of vaping remain unknown.
However, some of the ingredients in e-cigarette aerosol could be harmful to the lungs in the long-term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Moreover, the Florida Department of Health reports that the CDC has stated that that a single e-cig liquid pod of the popular e-cigarette brand JUUL contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.
Haddocks suggested e-cigarettes makers are marketing to youth and teenagers with pods that have “candylike or sweet flavoring” – flavors like bubblegum, fruit punch, candy cane, and crème brulee, to name a few.
The speaker noted the labeling of some of these pods even resemble that of candy products such as Sour Patch Kids or Bubblicious Original Bubble Gum. Such labeling makes e-cigs seem less harmful and more appealing for teens to try, Haddocks said.
Currently, the JUUL brand and related sweet vapor flavorings, Haddock noted, “are really, really popular among youth right now.”
She put it like this: “Of course, adults do like those flavorings, but who’s more likely to buy bubble gum or Bubblicious at a gas station — a 12-year-old or a 35-year-old?”
Aside from nicotine and other unknown chemicals, the speaker went on to explain that e-cigarettes and vape products can be manipulated with illicit substances.
Haddocks said some Pasco County teens have been caught with e-cig pods that test positive for alcohol, THC, cannabis and other substances.
Said Haddocks: “They’re smoking things laced with who knows what and they don’t know half the time, so that’s kind of turning into an even bigger issue that we’re seeing.”
She added: “It’s kind of a growth issue that we have right now in Pasco.”
Meanwhile, Haddocks said general tobacco use among children under 18 years old remains “a big issue” in the county.
She pointed out the younger that someone is when first trying tobacco, the more likely that person is to become a lifelong tobacco user, or to abuse tobacco for years to come.
“Ninety percent of adult smokers begin at or before the age of 18. It’s a huge concern,” she said.
To better combat such youth initiation, Haddocks advised the community to educate youth on the dangers of tobacco products and other drugs.
Published May 01, 2019