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78% increase of teens vaping across the country; local student organization helping lower number

S.W.A.T. organization at Empire High School
Vaping
Posted at 6:25 AM, Dec 26, 2019
and last updated 2020-02-05 14:11:11-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — The site of a white cloud of smoke, or something that looks like a flash drive in someone's hand, is becoming increasing more common, especially with underage teens.

The CDC reports a 78% increase across the country of youth using vaping and e-cigarettes.

Local students at Empire High School in Vail said many of their peers are vaping because they think it's water vapor.

"Some of my friends were talking about it. They were like should I try this? Like what is it? And they're like it's just water vapor it's nothing and I thought the same thing," Student Shelby Voveras said.

Voveras said it wasn't until she attended a S.W.A.T., or students wellness advocacy team, meeting at her high school that she learned what vaping was.

S.W.A.T. is a student-run organization to teach other teens about health issues, and they said one of the biggest ones today is vaping.

"My siblings who are in middle school they tell me they've heard of these products, I heard my friends are using them," Voveras said.

According to the center of addiction, vaping is inhaling and exhaling the aerosol known as vapor. It can be mistaken for water vapor, but it has particles with varying amounts of toxins linked to cancer and other diseases. It's an alternative to smoking tradition cigarettes.

"As the years have gone on we've seen increasing numbers of e-cigarette use among young people so that number is continued to go up," Rebecca O'Brien with the Pima County Health Department said.

O'Brien said a recent survey shows 48% of teens in Pima County said that they've tried vaping or E-Cigarettes at least once in their lifetime.

"These products tend to be marketed towards young people there's a lot of sweet tasting flavors, things that tend to appeal towards younger people a little bit more," O'Brien said.

The students at S.W.A.T. see this trend first hand everyday at school.

"People think it looks cool, that because their friends are doing it, why not?" Shelby Hays, another member of S.W.A.T. said. "Freshman year I didn't really see it much, going into the bathroom, it was just a normal bathroom, but now you see a lot more people vaping in the bathrooms or even just use smell it afterwards."

Hays and Voveras are among the students who helped advocate to raise the age of vaping in the City of Tucson from 18 to 21.

"Policy like this is not going to eliminate tobacco from every young person in Pima County or in Tucson, but it is a deterrent and it's a really good way to address a population at a larger level," O'Brien said.

However, CEO of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association Alex Clark doesn't agree. His organization advocates for vaping as a safe-alternative to cigarettes.

"Young people are going to experiment with things and we know this by looking at other substances," Clark said. "People aged 18 to 21 will continue to have access to cigarettes, they're sold everywhere. We support adults being able to make the decision, knowing the risk."

Even through their disagreements, both Clark and O'Brien agree, anyone under the age of 18 shouldn't have access to these products.

Meanwhile, students with S.W.A.T. said they plan to continue to spread their message until the rates among their peers drop.

"I hope that people look pass just the appearance of it, the appearance of oh this looks cool there is smoke everywhere," Voveras said. "Instead, I hope they see they're exposing themselves to so many chemicals that we don't even know the harms of, we don't even know what it can do to your body."