The use of electronic cigarettes has declined nationally among youth for the first time since the federal government started tracking it in 2011.
According to a recently released report by the Centers for Disease Control, the number of middle and high school students in the United States using e-cigarettes fell from 3 million in 2015 to 2.2 million in 2016.
The use of e-cigarettes — also referred to as vaping — has become a significant concern among health specialists in recent years as the practice has drastically increased in popularity. Some e-cigarettes liquids contain only flavored chemicals, but many contain varying levels of nicotine.
Though believed to be less dangerous than smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, debate is ongoing as to the long-term effects of consistently inhaling the substances put out by e-cigarette companies, which only just began being regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a year ago.
While there has been a decrease in the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers nationally, it is difficult to determine whether that 27 percent decline has reached the likes of Yavapai County.
Every two years, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC) publishes an Arizona Youth Survey (AYS). Based on the Communities that Care survey, AYS looks at the prevalence and frequency of problematic youth behaviors, as well as risk and protective factors. As of 2016, ACJC made changes in analytical methods, so the organization warns on its website not to compare results from previous years to its 2016 results.
What the 2016 survey does accurately depict is the percentage of use for various substances among youth in each of Yavapai County’s municipalities.
In Prescott, for instance, the e-cigarette use among youth was found to be 14.2 percent. In Prescott Valley, that percentage is slightly lower at 14 percent. Dewey Humboldt and Mayer sit at 16.9 percent.
Referencing such data, Gunner Tillemans, president of the Yavapai Anti-Tobacco Coalition of Youth (YATCY), found that Cottonwood was the only municipality in Yavapai County that saw a moderate decrease in the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers in the last year.
“In Cottonwood, both use of cigarettes and e-cigs among youth has gone down by 3 percent,” Tillemans said. “I believe Camp Verde remained the same, but all others have increased by small percentages.”
Tillemans is currently attending high school in Cottonwood. He got involved with YATCY when he saw how prevalent the use of cigarettes and e-cigs were among his peers.
“You would go into the bathroom and everyday there would just be plumes of smoke due to these e-cigarettes and other drugs being used,” he said.
Last year, his club lobbied Cottonwood’s City Council and successfully convinced members of the council to approve a Tobacco 21 ordinance, making Cottonwood the first municipality in Arizona to raise the smoking age of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21.
Jen Mabery, the adult coordinator for YATCY and an employee of Yavapai County Community Health Services, believes the smoking age increase is a reason Cottonwood’s cigarette and e-cigarette use among teens has gone down recently.
“That’s made a big difference in those numbers,” Mabery said.
The reasoning behind this is that youth cannot as easily acquire and distribute tobacco products when its legal purchase and use is well above their age range.
“When you’re selling to an 18-year-old, that 18-year-old is most likely still enrolled in high school,” Tillemans said. “They are then selling or giving out tobacco or nicotine products to all of the other youth beneath them, whether at home, school or on the street.”
Since the ordinance passed, Tillemans said there has been a noticeable decrease in the use of tobacco products at his school. “I almost hardly ever see anyone smoking an e-cig anymore within the school,” he added.
No group like YATCY exists in the quad-city area, said Julie Higgins, smoking cessation professional with the Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott.
Higgins has been working as a smoking cessation professional for more than 30 years and currently teaches free quarterly smoking cessation classes through the hospital. Though she no longer works with youth like she used to, she has no trouble believing that the use of e-cigarettes among teens throughout the country has declined.
“I think regulation is making it a little tougher for kids to get a hold of those vaping devices now,” Higgins said.
What she is not seeing, however, is a reduction in the use of e-cigarettes among young adults. “I’m seeing a lot of people between the ages of like 21 and 35 using a lot of vaping,” Higgins said.
Many in her classes will often tell her that e-cigarettes are helping them cut back on using regular cigarettes.
Her concern, however, is that there hasn’t been enough research to show what e-cigarettes can do to one’s body in the long run.
“[Health specialists] didn’t know about the harmful effects of cigarettes for years, and by the time they did know, it was a regular epidemic,” Higgins said.
Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein, email him at email@example.com or call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105.