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Area youth vape, smoke at alarming rates

In 2017, Colorado reported higher youth vape use than any other state in the country.

In 2019, one in four Colorado youths reported vaping, and in Montezuma County, the numbers were even higher: 38.9% of our high school students reported vaping in the past 30 days.

Colorado youths have been facing an unprecedented pandemic that is leaving many feeling anxious, depressed and lonely.

The impact of the pandemic on youth tobacco use remains unclear. While there’s information to support that vaping among youths is down because of less social interaction with their peers, we also know there’s a strong relationship between youth tobacco use and mental health, including depression, anxiety and stress. On-and-off school closures, having to stay socially distant from friends, and worries about family job loss are all impacting young people’s mental health. And even though the end of some of these worries may feel within reach, the long-term effects on youth are still unknown.

Before the pandemic, research showed that about half of Colorado youths had tried to quit smoking or vaping, so teens who are turning to tobacco as a way to cope may be struggling even more. Anxiety or stress may also arise as a result of nicotine withdrawal and vaping or smoking may temporarily relieve these feelings, leading to a vicious cycle.

Now more than ever, parents, teachers, health care professionals and other trusted adults play an important role in preventing youth tobacco use and in getting young people connected with the resources that can help them cut back or quit.

If you suspect your child may be using tobacco, your first instinct may be to confront and discipline them. But, this may make them even more secretive and unwilling to discuss the issue. Be aware of your teen’s overall mood and know their friends. Unusual irritability, a sudden decline in school attendance or grades, or keeping new friends a secret might be signs your teen is exploring unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco use. Nicotine withdrawal can increase irritability.

The decision to quit tobacco is one your teen must make themselves, but there are resources available, like My Life, My Quit, that are specifically designed to help young people cut back or quit tobacco. My Life, My Quit offers 24/7 hour coaching support to reach teens where they are and provide an easy-to-use, nonjudgmental experience. Youths ages 12 to 17 can simply text “Start my quit” to 36072 to get connected with a coach or to receive quit tips. Online and phone support is also available.

Here are tips for how you can support your teen and connect them with the resources that can help them quit.

● Let your teen know you are concerned about the impact of tobacco use, including vaping, on their current and long-term health.

● Many teens believe vaping is not tobacco. Let your teen know most vaping products contain nicotine. Whether they are smoking cigarettes, vaping nicotine or using other types of e-cigarettes, all have the same addictive properties.

● Ask if they want help and let them know you have a resource that is free and confidential.

● Tell them you want to support them and ask if they will sign up for the My Life, My Quit program. If they are not willing to enroll right then, provide them with information about how to enroll and let them know they have support to help them quit.

● If your teen is ready to get started, they can text, call or enroll online. It’s fast and simple.

● Your teen may want help taking the first step of calling or sending the text. But remember, your teen needs to do the work in order to be successful.

For more information on how to talk to teens about tobacco and support them in quitting or cutting back on tobacco, visit mylifemyquit.org or tobaccofreeco.org.

Megan Bradley directs tobacco education and prevention for the Montezuma County Public Health Department.