GREAT FALLS — While vaping by teens may be on the decline in the state of Montana, it is still an issue that affects thousands of teens each year.
According to the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS), in 2019, an estimated 28% of middle school students report having tried e-cigarettes while 16% currently use them.
While high school vaping has declined amongst high school students from 30% to 26% from 2019-2021, there has been a slight increase among middle school students, and despite the decrease among high school students, experts are aiming to warn the community of the dangers it poses to our youth.
"That's still a huge percentage of our youth that are using e-cigarettes. It's one in four high school students that are currently using these products. It's still the most commonly used tobacco product amongst our youth," Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program Manager Nicole Aune said.
Cascade County Prevention Specialist Beth Morrison stated that this is one of the most important issues impacting our youth today.
"This is a very concerning issue. It is a youth vaping epidemic," she said. "We've seen the number of our youth increase dramatically. We hear a lot of issues with vaping in the schools and getting into the younger grades, so right now, we're trying to reach out to the youth and 5th and 6th graders to try to get ahead of this. It is a huge issue, it is probably the number one substance that youth are concerned about"
Influence is the major cause of teens getting into vaping, ranging from media influence to peer influence. However, more than half of teens that vape have said that they do it because of the flavors, with thousands of flavors on the market.
"We have heard directly from Montana teens that the reason they use these e-cigarettes is because they are curious about all of the different flavors and they want to try them out," Aune said.
A recent Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that 94% of Montana high school students report using non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes.
With the push to ban all non-tobacco flavored vapes, to try to decrease the number of users. Many teens believe that vaping is not as harmful as smoking cigarettes, as some are under the assumption that they cannot get addicted to the nicotine in them.
"Nearly all of these devices contain high levels of nicotine. One vaping pod can be the equivalent of 90 cigarettes, which is 4½ cigarettes in the vaping pod, and we are hearing of youth that are vaping multiple pods a day. That's a severe amount of nicotine going straight to the brain and straight to the lungs," Morrison noted. "We're seeing it progress with lung disease and respiratory issues at such a higher rate than cigarettes."
Despite the amount of cases that we've seen towards youth groups vaping, organizations are engaging in ways to address the issue to local communities, and they say education is the first step, and for parents, warning your kids ahead of time.
"Parents just need to stay informed on what vaping really is, and just try to have those conversations with your kids of what these things actually are and how quickly they become addicted to these things," Morrison said.
For help quitting tobacco, including e-cigarettes, visit quitnowmontana.com or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.