Fairfax County teenagers are vaping less than their peers nationwide, a county survey of middle and high school students found.
15.1% of the 48,915 students who responded to the 2019-2020 Fairfax County Youth Survey reported vaping within the past 30 days, compared to 22.5% of teenagers in the U.S. overall. The survey results were released on Oct. 20.
Nicotine remains the drug most frequently used for vaping, which involves the inhalation of an aerosol through a battery-powered device, but its usage declined from 16.7% in 2018 to under 12% in 2019.
About half as many students reported using flavoring in this year’s survey (5.5%) as they did in the previous year’s (10.3%), but the use of marijuana rose from 8% in 2018 to 9% in 2019.
The number of Fairfax County teens who say they have vaped within their lifetime dropped from 28% in 2018 to 25% in 2019, according to the survey, which is given annually to Fairfax County Public Schools students in sixth, eighth, 10th, and 12th grades.
Fairfax County did not add questions about vaping to its annual youth survey until 2018, making it hard to determine whether the decline in reported vaping is a real trend, but county officials are encouraged by the results.
“The rates for vaping among Fairfax County youth went down considerably from 2018 despite the upward national trend,” Fairfax County Office of Strategy Management for Health and Human Services public information officer Shweta Adyanthaya said. “This is a promising sign that our youth are heeding the concerns regarding vaping in general.”
County officials say they remain concerned about the health effects of vaping, especially during a pandemic caused by a coronavirus that attacks people’s lungs.
Research on how COVID-19 affects people who have used e-cigarettes is limited, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked a contaminant found in e-cigarettes to an outbreak of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injuries (EVALI) that had killed or hospitalized 2,807 people in the U.S. as of Feb. 18.
Though it is a potential benefit, the CDC says the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as an aid for helping adults quit smoking is unknown. The agency warns against vaping for youth, young adults, pregnant adults, and adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
“We know that the brains of adolescents continue to develop until about the age [of] 25 and that nicotine can have harmful effects,” Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “Now, with evidence that vaping may be linked with worse outcomes of COVID-19 infection, it’s more important than ever that we offer solutions to help young people.”
FCPS Student Safety and Wellness Office coordinator Stefan Mascoll says 697 students came to the office for tobacco-related substance abuse during the 2019-20 school year, a number that might have been higher if the COVID-19 pandemic did not close schools in March.
“Young people who use e-cigarettes may be vaping even more to cope with stress and social isolation, or they may be experiencing difficult nicotine withdrawal symptoms because of limited access to e-cigarettes,” the Fairfax County Health Department says.
To combat vaping, Fairfax County and FCPS have partnered with the nonprofit Truth Initiative to promote This Is Quitting, a free program that sends supportive text messages to teens and young adults seeking to quit e-cigarettes.
Started in January 2019, This Is Quitting has more than 206,000 enrollees nationwide. People in Fairfax County can join by texting VapeFreeFFX to 88709.
James Madison High School student Sid Thakker, who won an award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2019 for a science fair project about nicotine addiction, has been assisting with the implementation of This Is Quitting in Fairfax County.
“As a senior in high school, I know students aren’t given much information on treatments if they are addicted, but the program is the perfect mix of creative treatments and advice,” Thakker said. “I am excited to see the impact it will make in FCPS.”
Image via Fairfax County