OGDEN -- The use of electronic cigarettes in Utah has skyrocketed during the past two years and youth in Weber and Morgan counties are using them more than any of their peers across the state.
According to the Utah Department of Health, 30 percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders in Weber and Morgan Counties have experimented with e-cigarettes this year -- more than triple the amount in 2011. Of those, 6.8 percent of males and 5.2 percent of females in the same age group use them on a daily basis.
Even more alarming, the 30-day use for students in the same age group has gone up by 500 percent in Weber and Morgan counties in the past two years, from 3.6 percent in 2011 to 19.9 percent this year.
Anna Guymon, director of the tobacco prevention and control program at the Weber-Morgan Health Department said according to surveys done for the past three months, youth indicate it is easy to get e-cigarettes and cited social sources and e-cig/vapor shops as the primary access points.
"Many youth indicated that their most important reason for use was the price," she said. "We have heard that youth are purchasing the devices and then sharing them with friends. All they have to do is split the cost of the nicotine refill solution for a couple of bucks."
E-cigarettes are often advertised as a cleaner alternative to regular cigarettes, both Guymon and the CDC both indicated. The smokeless devices allow users to inhale a nicotine vapor instead of tobacco fumes, but Guymon said e-cigarettes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so what ingredients are in them are anyone's guess. In addition, the tobacco industry promotes the product in colorful, appealing packaging with cotton candy, gummy bear and grape flavored e-cigarettes, which strongly seduce youth into experimenting with them. They are also touted as a way to help people stop smoking, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated a concern that the opposite may be true. Nicotine is addictive, whether it comes in the form of a cigarette or an e-cigarette.
Earlier this month, the CDC reported one in 10 high school students have used an e-cigarette in the past year. A total of 1.78 million middle and high school students across the nation use e-cigarettes.
"We know what works for preventing youth initiation of tobacco products and in addition to age restriction, that is, licensing, enforcement and price," Guymon said. "These products have been age-restricted for several years, and you can see from the data that it is not enough to prevent them from using."
The American Lung Association has also urged the FDA to halt the sale and distribution of all e-cigarettes unless the products have been reviewed and approved for sale.
"The Utah Poison Control data is also very concerned, especially regarding the increasing trend of calls in the past three years and the number of calls related to youth exposure under the age of 5 years old," Guymon said. "I don't think most parents know how deadly nicotine is, especially because the tobacco industry continually compares it to caffeine."