COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — It looks an innocent child’s toy, an action figure no less.
Look closer. It’s a vaping device.
It’s just one of the insidious way marketers are getting — and keeping — vaping devices in the hands of youth, public health officials say.
To push back, health educators visited Brighton High School Thursday to teach parents and students about the dangers of vaping, how to identify vaping devices and how parents can help their teens to navigate pressures associated with vaping.
No question, manufacturers target youths, said Julia Glade, health educator with the Salt Lake County Health Department. They do it by marketing enticing, addictive vaping products and devices that are readily concealed.
Some vaping devices look like pens, thumb drives or smartwatches, and some are even concealed in the drawstrings of hoodies.
Some products produce low amounts of vapor, which makes it easier for users to vape undetected.
“What happens with youth is, the flavors attract them but it’s the nicotine that traps them,” said Steve Hanson, program manager for community health.
The 2017 Student Health And Risk Prevention Survey results showed 56% of 12th graders did not believe vaping was harmful.
“So I think there is an attitude of, it’s not harmful, but we know enough there’s conclusive evidence to show us that it is harmful,” Glade said.
The consensus report “Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes,” an expert committee of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, presents 47 conclusions related to the use e-cigarettes.
One finding says “there is conclusive evidence that exposure to nicotine from e-cigarettes is highly variable and depends on product characteristics.”
Nicotine is highly addictive to the adolescent brain, and chemical and metals exposure from vaping poses other health risks, Glade said.
What youth may perceive as harmless water vapor can contain lead, propylene glycol, acetone, nickel, the herbicide acrolein, and cadmium, which is commonly used in batteries.
Of course, many vaping juices contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and affects youth’s brains, which keep developing until age 25, said Glade.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.
Science is still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, Glade said.
Ultrafine particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs while vaping, contributing to severe lung illnesses, even deaths. Utah medical cases have involved vaping nicotine, THC or both, health officials said.
Federal, state and local regulation has emerged in recent months to rein in youth access to vaping.
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration said it will ban fruit- and mint-flavored products used in e-cigarettes and vaping products while allowing vape shops to sell flavors from tank-based systems. Enforcement of the rule is expected to begin in early February. The ban does not apply to menthol and tobacco-flavored products.
In late December, President Donald Trump signed legislation that raises the federal legal smoking age to 21, including e-cigarettes. A like requirement was scheduled to go into effect in Utah in 2021 under state law.
In Utah, a group of local vape retailers pushed back against a Utah Department of Health emergency rule intended to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Late last year, a district court judge temporarily stayed implementation of the rule pending further proceedings.
Otherwise, public health officials are dealing with products sold by unregulated individuals or establishments that contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Hanson said a high school administrator elsewhere in the county recently shared with him that a student at his school had developed a $20 a day habit vaping THC. His parents were unwittingly supporting his habit through his allowance.
Hanson said the goal of visiting schools is teaching parents and educators about vaping and to encourage conversations within families.
Glade said both the Salt Lake County Health Department and the Utah Department of Health have helpful resources. The Tobacco Talk offered by state health officials can help foster meaningful, research-backed conversations about tobacco and vaping risks, Glade said.
The Salt Lake County Health Department also wants youth to help educate their peers about the health risks of e-cigarettes. To that end, it is hosting the third-annual Kick Ash Film Festival for students in grades seven through 12.
This year’s theme is “Huff, Puff, Hooked,” which was selected by the Salt Lake County’s Healthy Teen advisory group.
The contest seeks videos between 30 and 60 seconds intended to persuade youths to avoid vaping. Submissions will be accepted until Feb. 27.
The contest has two categories, one for students in grades 10-12 and another for students grades seven through nine. Any student in Salt Lake County is eligible to enter.
Winning films will be screened at a red carpet event on March 19. Winners of each category will be awarded cash prizes up to $350.
For contest rules, visit slco.org/health/tobacco-prevention/kick-ash.