Student health survey shows big increase in youth vaping since 2016

By Oliver Lazenby

Whatcom County health department officials are concerned about a rise in youth vaping, a nationwide trend that’s picking up locally, according to the recently released Healthy Youth Survey.

Every two years, the Healthy Youth Survey asks students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades about substance abuse, mental health, school climate and other health factors. The 2018 survey was conducted statewide in October.

The increase in vaping – the use of electronic cigarettes that heat a liquid containing nicotine to vapor – is the most significant change from the 2016 survey. In 2018, 27.4 percent of Whatcom County 10th graders surveyed reported using vapor products in the previous 30 days, more than double the number for 2016, when 12.8 percent reported using vapor products in the past 30 days.

The increase corresponds to a lack of education about vaping; just 36 percent of Whatcom County 10th graders surveyed said vaping is harmful. While e-cigarettes contain lower levels of some toxic substances than cigarettes, users still ingest nicotine, which is addictive and can harm brain development. (It’s possible to vape flavored liquid that doesn’t contain nicotine, but most e-cigarette smokers surveyed use nicotine.)

“We’re concerned about the recent vaping trend and that so many youth aren’t aware of the dangers of vaping. But it’s important to know that parents and guardians are the biggest influence on a child’s decision about substance use,” said Joe Fuller, Whatcom County health department prevention specialist, in a news release. “By talking to their teens about risks and the fact that most of their peers make healthy choices, parents can change perceptions and discourage use. Sometimes it seems like teens aren’t listening to what parents say, but they are.”

Vapor use was slightly higher in Whatcom County than the state average – 21.2 percent of 10th graders surveyed statewide reported vaping in the past 30 days, six percentage points less than in Whatcom County.

The increase in vaping in Whatcom County mirrors a national trend. The 2018 Monitoring the Future study, which used different methods than the Healthy Youth Survey, found that 16.1 percent of 10th graders nationwide had vaped nicotine within the past 30 days, an increase of eight percentage points from its 2017 study.

Other survey highlights include:

– Though marijuana use has remained steady among Whatcom County 10th graders since 2016, almost a third of county 10th graders and 42 percent of 12th graders reported believing there is little or no risk from regular marijuana use; research shows that marijuana can affect brain development.

– Use of cigarettes and alcohol was flat or slightly down compared with 2016.

– Marijuana use was two percentage points higher for 10th and 12th graders in Whatcom County than statewide.

– More Whatcom County students in all grades reported participating in after school activities than the statewide average (67 percent of Whatcom 10th graders versus 62 percent statewide).

– Fewer Whatcom County respondents reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year than the statewide average (38 percent in Whatcom County versus 40 percent statewide for 10th graders).

– Fewer students are obese or overweight in Whatcom County than statewide (27.2 percent versus 31.7 percent).

Results specific to the Blaine school district are not yet available. See the full Healthy Youth Survey results for Whatcom County and other counties at:

  1. While I must agree that vaping is harmful to teens, and we must keep it out of their hands, we must remember that not all vaping is a bad thing. Many adults are vaping and cutting down the nicotine slowly until they can permanently quit smoking cigarettes. That is how I quit smoking almost six years ago, so I hate to see all vaping getting such a bad rap. I would hope that teens would never start smoking or vaping, but there are always an adventurous few who will do it anyway.


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