Local Organizations Collaborate to Address Vaping Epidemic

SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA — Three local organizations are hosting an information session for parents and educators about the vaping epidemic affecting teens, and actions they can take to help prevent nicotine addiction among County youth, from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, September 21. The Santa Cruz County Office of Education’s Tobacco Use Prevention Education program joins Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance, and the Santa Cruz County Tobacco Education Coalition for a free, hour-long, bilingual (English/Spanish) presentation, “Back to School, NOT Back to JUUL: Vaping and What Parents Need to Know.”

All three organizations educate students and families about the harms of tobacco use, and work to reduce the likelihood that young people have access to tobacco products or experience addiction. They also provide interventions to support cessation for youth that need it.

Thanks to decades of prevention efforts, cigarette smoking has reached an all-time low. Less than 14% of Americans reported using cigarettes in 2018. While cigarette smoking has steadily declined, a different tobacco product is on the rise, especially among youth: e-cigarettes or “vaping.” According to the National Institute of Health, 37% of high school seniors reported using vape devices in 2018.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for remote learning, vaping rates amongst youth tumbled in 2020. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that U.S. high school students who vape went from 27.5% in 2019 to 19.6% in 2020. However, approximately 1 in 6 American high school and middle school students, or about 4.5 million, still used some type of tobacco product in 2020.

Educators have speculated that remote learning decreased peer pressure to use tobacco while on campus. Lack of in-person academic and after-school programs also likely decreased students’ ability to access tobacco products. As school campuses welcome back students this fall, health educators are encouraging parents and teachers to be mindful of student behaviors around vaping.

“We are thrilled to see our students returning to in-person learning,” said Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel. “However, it’s never been more important for youth to avoid tobacco products, both on campus and off. Smoking or vaping tobacco weakens the respiratory system, making users more susceptible to serious illness from COVID-19. This is especially troubling for children who are too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This presentation gives parents and educators the tools they need to protect local youth from the predatory tobacco industry.” 

Parents, teachers, and community members are invited to join the presentation via Zoom, in English at https://bit.ly/3yDyuN3, or Spanish at https://bit.ly/3zJ9tBo. The program will cover the basics of vaping devices, including how to identify if your child is vaping, the health impacts of tobacco use and COVID-19, and how to talk with young people about vaping. The presentation will conclude with a list of resources for parents and educators.


Nick Ibarra