EVERETT — Vaping is the new Kool for youth.
Only you smell like bubble gum or cotton candy, not an ashtray.
Fewer Snohomish County middle and high school students are smoking cigarettes, according to the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey results. But use of vapor products, such as e-cigarettes and vape pens, is increasing among all grade levels surveyed.
Based on responses, 1-in-10 eighth-grade students vape; 1-in-5 have tried vaping.
Nearly half of high school seniors responding to the survey tried an e-cigarette or vape pen. About 30 percent said they vape.
More than a third of high school sophomores have tried vaping, and 1-in-5 vape.
Vaping simulates cigarette smoking by heating a liquid that generates a chemical vapor that is inhaled. There’s no trail of ashes or lighter to hide from parents.
There is, however, a big cloud of scented vapor.
Cartridges come in hundreds of flavors with options for nicotine, the highly addictive substance that hooks generations of people on tobacco products.
It’s illegal to sell vaping products to those under 18.
And this restricton could get stricter in Washington: House Bill 1074, which would prohibit the sale of tobacco and vaping products to those under the age of 21, passed out of the House, 66-30, and now is being considered by the Senate.
In Snohomish County, 2,029 sixth graders, 3,772 eighth graders, 3,561 10th graders and 2,793 12th graders completed the Healthy Youth Survey. It is optional and anonymous.
The surveys, which are done statewide every other year, go back to 2002. The new findings are a step back after years of progress in reducing youth tobacco use, which reached an all-time low in 2018.
“We’ve seen some promising drops in cigarette use and alcohol use and illegal substances used by youth,” health district spokeswoman Heather Thomas said. “The troubling data was with vaping. We did see some significant uses across the board.”
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It gets more troubling.
“The question did not specifically mention Juul, so there is some concern there might be further under-reporting because some youths don’t equate Juul with vaping or e-cigarettes the way the questions were asked,” Thomas said.
Juuls resemble a flash drive with a vapor pod inside that can be charged in a USB port. They come in assorted colors with such accessories as decal skins, cute keychains and convenient hoodie drawstrings.
“They are the bane of existence for most of our school districts,” Thomas said.
The 2018 survey results show that the older a student gets, the less likely they are to believe regular use of an e-cigarette is harmful. About 46 percent of eighth graders said it was harmful compared to only 32 percent of seniors.
“From 2016 to 2018, more than five times as many 10th grade students said they use vapor products containing nicotine,” Mark Beatty, district health officer, wrote in an email. “Other possible risks are still being studied, but we already know that nicotine is highly addictive. These are serious concerns for public health.”
On the bright side, the survey found binge drinking and using illegal drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamine, appears to be dropping.
Youth marijuana use has not changed drastically. High school seniors in Snohomish County are less likely to have smoked marijuana recently — about 15 percent in the 2018 survey, down from 20 percent in 2014 and 2016. However, there was no significant change in other forms of use, such as edibles, vaping or dabbing. With vapor devices, it can be difficult for parents or teachers to tell the difference between marijuana and e-cigarette liquid.
In the last decade, the percentage of seniors who reported using any illegal drug to get high in the last month has been halved, down to 5 percent in the 2018 survey.
That does not include marijuana, which is illegal for those younger than 21. Just over 3 percent of seniors said they’ve used heroin at some point, as did about 2 percent of eighth and tenth graders.
Across grade levels, the percentage of students who binge drink is at the lowest it has been since the survey started in 2002. For seniors, 14 percent say they binge drink. It’s 9.1 percent for sophomores. In 2002, the rates were 29 percent of seniors and 20 percent of sophomores who said they binge drink.