This sign recently went up at the Local’s Corner convenience store. Colorado youth are vaping nicotine at twice the national average, and Aspen’s rate is even higher.

Nearly 60 percent of Aspen High School students in a recent survey reported having tried vaping nicotine, putting them well above an already-inflated statewide average.

Colorado youth are vaping nicotine at twice the national average and at the highest rate of 37 states surveyed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Aspen, 59 percent of high school students say they have tried vaping nicotine, second only to alcohol use, according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. This is more than the 53 percent average across the Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen to Parachute) and 43 percent across the state.

“Addressing vaping is a high priority for the Aspen School District since it is pervasive not only here but among teenagers across the country,” Aspen High School assistant principal Sarah Strassburger said in a press release. “We are working collaboratively with the city of Aspen, Aspen Family Connection and families in our community. Through these efforts, we hope to find even more ways to prevent students from starting and to provide interventions to help them stop.”

While smoking cigarettes among high school students has dropped drastically, vaping nicotine is on the rise. Research shows both smoking and vaping can be harmful to youth. More than 90 percent of vaping products, when tested, were found to contain nicotine, and the main vape device used by youth, the Juul, has nicotine in 100 percent of its products. In fact, the amount of nicotine in one Juul “pod” or cartridge is the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, according to a press release from Pitkin County Public Health.

“Of particular concern to us is that youth consider e-cigarettes to be safe and also relatively easy to get, even though it is illegal to purchase as minors,” Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said in the release. “Studies show that nicotine has a negative effect on adolescent brain development, causing lasting impairments, including effects on working memory and attention or focus.

“Most vape products also contain dangerous toxins to create the flavors and feeling, including heavy metals like lead and chemicals known to cause cancer and other very serious diseases.”

Colorado is looking to follow Aspen’s lead in enacting new tobacco regulations to make it harder for teens to access nicotine vapes. Policies include increasing the age to buy all tobacco products to 21 and requiring retailers to have a license to sell tobacco. The city of Aspen was the first in the state to make this change in 2017, and the town of Basalt soon followed. Snowmass Village is currently in the process of considering making these changes.  

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who promoted a statewide “No Vape November” awareness program, is also advocating for increasing the price of e-cigarettes and adding safeguards to internet sales, a popular way for teens to buy e-cigarette products. The adoption of these policies will be in the hands of the incoming state government.

Aspen School District supported the effort to raise the tobacco sales age to 21 in the city of Aspen, partnered with AFC to hold vaping information nights for parents, and instituted a vaping-cessation course that runs for eight weeks for students found vaping on campus or any student interested in attending.