MASON CITY — Youth vaping is being called an epidemic by the US Surgeon General and the Food and Drug Administration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a report indicating the increased use of vaping and e-cigarettes has erased any progress that’s been made in prior years in preventing youth tobacco use. E-cigarette use has increased to almost 21% of high school students and 5% of middle school students.

A recent survey of nearly 550 north-central Iowa youth has revealed that 42% have tried vaping. Penny McCaslin is the tobacco program coordinator for the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health. She says those statistics are very concerning. “Because of the rate of youth patterns that we’ve seen, the numbers just explode with kids using these products. The problem with that is because they are commonly unknowingly using a high amount of nicotine, which is highly addictive. It’s a poison. It really just sets them up for a lifetime of all kinds of addictions.”

McCaslin says they did the north-central Iowa survey to show people that it’s just not an epidemic nationally but as well here locally.  “Sometimes even when we know that there’s a national issue, there are pockets around  the nation that aren’t quite affected by different issues here and there, so we wanted to check in on North Iowa and see really where we are specifically with this issue. So that’s why we took the survey. We got a fair amount of youth to share that information with us and I think it really shows that there is an epidemic here and all through Iowa, we know by other surveys and so forth. So it is very concerning.”

McCaslin says the most recently manufactured vaping products are being made to be discreet, but there are some things you can look for if you suspect a child may be vaping.  “Not only in the size and the look of it, it looks like similar to a flash drive, it’s very easy to hide in the hand and it also has a tendency to not expose so much white cloud that we see what some of the earlier electronic products. If you’re seeing equipment around the house or around your kids’ bedrooms, something that looks like a flash drive but is a little bit different than what you’re used to seeing, that might be something to just look at a little bit closer and see exactly what it is.”

McCaslin says help is available if you find a child has been vaping. “The Quit Vaping Hotline is one that we believe can really help youth and parents. People can check into that by texting the word QUIT to 202-804-9884. Everything is anonymous and it’s free of charge. The messages are tailored to age groups, so they give appropriate recommendations for teens, young adults and the parents, which I think it’s really great.”

You can also find more information about vaping by heading to the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health’s website.

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