TCOE data shows slight uptick in youth vaping

Youth vaping trending upward, according to the Tulare County Office of Education; concerning in light of a study that shows youth who use e-cigarettes are three times more likely to become daily smokers

TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County Office of Education’s (TCOE) Choices Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE) program gathered research showing that youth who use e-cigarettes are three times more likely to become daily smokers. Survey data from Tulare County shows youth vaping is on the rise.

According to a research publication by the University of California San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health, “Researchers found in 2014 that people, ages 12 to 24, who used e-cigarettes were three times as likely to become daily cigarette smokers in the future.” Researchers also found that by the fourth year of the study, 62% of study participants reported some tobacco experimentation, up 17% from the 45% experimenting in the first year.

In Tulare County, as the school year began, the TUPE team conducted surveys with Tulare County students in grades 6 to 12. Of more than 3,500 students surveyed during the first month of TUPE classes, 3.2% reported current usage of e-cigarettes and 12.8% reported witnessing their peers using e-cigarettes at school.

Jeff Lynch, Choices prevention and intervention learning facilitator, said he’s seeing concerning trends coming out of the pandemic among Tulare County youth.

“Unfortunately since [that data came out] the number has actually gone up another 0.4% of students using in the last 30 days, which is part of our worries. We’re trying to figure out how to combat that coming off of this pandemic,” Lynch said. “The students that have spoken out about it, there was a lack of accountability sitting at home all day.”

Prior to the pandemic, students self-reporting current usage of e-cigarettes was at 2.7% for the 2019/2020 school year. Current rates are at 3.6%.

Lynch said the TUPE program establishes a baseline understanding through assessing students’ perceived risk—how harmful students believe it is to vape and use tobacco or cannabis. Pre-pandemic in the 2019/2020 school year, 25% of students reported e-cigarettes were of little or no harm to their health. This year, that number has currently risen to 34.3%.

In Tulare County, the TCOE Choices Prevention Program provides Tobacco Use Prevention Education to over 40,000 students in more than 50 schools and districts across the county. The TUPE program conducts in-class presentations to students in grades 6 through 12, publishes a weekly newsletter, and holds several special events designed to increase students’ knowledge of the dangers of tobacco and marijuana use. In partnership with local law enforcement agencies, the TUPE program works with local tobacco retailers to ensure they comply with state sales and advertising laws as they apply to minors.

TCOE’s TUPE program has been providing services to the county for over two decades, and currently operates from a three-year, $2.1 million grant from the California Department of Education. The grant runs through 2023.

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