‘Nic Sick’ Sounds Alarm About Youth Vaping in Idaho

It was the first day of middle school in Sandpoint when 12-year-old Justice took her first vape hit in the girls’ bathroom. She thought vaping would make her popular. Damien started vaping in middle school to ease his stress. By the time he got to high school in Nampa he wasn’t able to catch his breath during exercise. Chase started vaping with his friends in Jerome when he was 12, then he became so addicted he was expelled from his high school for multiple vaping-related offenses.

Justice, Damien and Chase’s stories are not unique. Idaho is in the midst of a youth vaping crisis: one in five teens has tried vaping at least once. And according to Idaho medical experts, kids are vaping as early as age seven.  

A new statewide campaign raises awareness about the dangers of youth vaping

With funding from tobacco settlement dollars, Idaho Public Television has launched KNOW VAPE, a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of youth vaping in Idaho through a documentary, a video contest for teens, free online resources for parents and teachers, standards-based curriculum for educators, and a social media campaign.

Nic Sick: The Dangers of Youth Vaping — a documentary that airs Tuesday, March 21, at 7 PM on Idaho Public Television — is a focal point of the campaign. It follows Idaho teens, including Justice, Damien and Chase, as they talk with heartbreaking authenticity about how and why they started vaping and the health and behavioral consequences that followed. Health and science experts, law-enforcement personnel, Idaho parents, and vaping prevention and cessation counselors are also featured. 

To aid students, parents and teachers in educating young people about the dangers of vaping and the importance of quitting, free KNOW VAPE resources and shareable social media are available online at idahoptv.org/knowvape

The KNOW VAPE campaign also includes an anti-vape video contest for Idaho 13-to-18-year-olds. Teen creators are asked to produce a video, no longer than 90 seconds, that speaks to the dangers of vaping, vaping prevention or how to quit vaping. More than $10,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the winners. Winning videos will be broadcast on IdahoPTV and shared across social media channels. The deadline to enter is April 1. More information can be found at idahoptv.org/knowvape.

This IdahoPTV project was funded by a grant from Idaho’s Millennium Fund. 

“We thought it was really important that this be a story about Idaho and that it be told by the teens who are battling vape addiction,” says KNOW VAPE producer Jennie Sue Weltner. “We interviewed dozens of kids from big and small towns all over Idaho and they wanted us to know that vaping is everywhere.”

“Their stories about battling vape addiction are heartbreaking,” says Nic Sick independent producer and director April Frame. “They are up against big tobacco, which is a very sophisticated, multi-billion dollar industry that has purposefully designed vapes to be attractive to kids, easy to get, easy to hide and very hard to quit.” 

“And the health consequences are significant,’” says Frame. “Almost all of the kids talked about breathing problems and stomach aches, vomiting and difficulty with exercise and sports. They also were eager to share what parents and educators don’t know: kids are vaping in class and in front of their parents and they are getting vapes from nefarious adults.” 

Teen vaping in Idaho

Although vape sales to minors, 21 and under, is illegal in the U.S. and Idaho, vapes are widely available and cheap and have a foothold in Idaho’s rural communities and schools, according to Stephen Cody Orchard, a tobacco prevention and smoking cessation health education specialist with South Central Public Health District. He visits dozens of middle and high schools in the Magic Valley area to teach students, parents and educators about the dangers of vaping. 

“Five years ago we found heavy use with teens in Sun Valley,” says Orchard. “Then it slowly started moving into Twin and Jerome. Now we’re seeing it in small towns like Dietrich and Fairfield.” 

Orchard warns that vapes are hard to spot: they can be hidden in the drawstrings of a hoodie-style sweatshirt or disguised as an Apple-style watch, an MP3 speaker, a USB drive, a lipstick dispenser or a coffee tumbler.

According to the Idaho State Department of Education, in 2019, nearly half of all Idaho high school students had vaped at least once. Between 2017-2018, vaping rose 78% among Idaho high schoolers and 48% among Idaho middle schoolers. Recent national surveys suggest that during and after Covid, vaping use increased among teens. 

What are vapes?

Vapes are a form of electronic cigarettes that use a battery to heat a liquid solution to a high temperature producing an aerosol that is inhaled. E-cigarettes, which emerged in China in 2004 and in the U.S. in 2007, are today a multi‐billion-dollar industry. Originally marketed as a smoking cessation tool for adults, e-cigarettes/vapes quickly became popular among teens when manufacturers began illegally marketing the devices on teen-centric social media channels. The vast majority of vapes contain large amounts of nicotine, one of the most addictive chemicals in the world, and other harmful and cancer-causing chemicals and metals.  

Most teens, according to the CDC, use vapes with fruit, candy, sweet or dessert flavorings with names such as Dragon Banana Berry, Cotton Candy and S’mores. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimates that there are more than 7,000 e-cigarette flavors.  

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping can harm the developing adolescent brain. Idaho respiratory therapists are reporting a rise in vape-related illnesses such as asthma, seizures and e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI), a serious and irreversible lung condition. 

Idaho gets $8.3 million from JUUL settlement

The rapid rise of teen vaping is correlated with the launch in 2015 of U.S.-made vape called JUUL. One JUUL vape pod contains the nicotine equivalent of one pack of cigarettes. In September 2022, JUUL was ordered to pay $438.5 million to 34 states and territories, including Idaho, following a two-year investigation into the company’s teen-focused marketing and sales practices. Idaho received $8.3 million from the settlement.

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