Colorado’s reputation as one of the healthiest states in the nation is clouded by at least one inconvenient fact: more than one-quarter of high school students in the state used electronic cigarettes at least one day in the previous 30, according to a 2017 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s double the national rate.
Why the youthful embrace of nicotine-delivery systems in the guise of brightly colored, sweet-smelling, flavorful products? And why do large numbers of teens use nicotine products of any kind in the face of their well-established health risks?
Ms. Emery McDowell, a 14-year-old freshman at Grandview High School in Aurora, says the numbers of young people vaping and smoking show that the problem can’t be written off as one isolated to “unruly teenage behavior.” She sees the evidence in front of her every day, in person and online.
Nicotine use, Ms. McDowell said, “is normalized in our culture. I see people on Instagram and Snapchat posting pictures of people vaping, being all cool and stuff.” She’s upset by what she sees as a tobacco industry effort to market nicotine products to teens through social media.
“That’s not okay because you are using youths’ minds to build income for your companies,” she said.
Ms. McDowell is channeling her desire to change that as part of a state-funded program designed to pinpoint the reasons young people use nicotine and explore with them ways to prevent it. The program, called UpRISE, is funded by a three-year, $1.8 million innovative grant from the State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership, part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
UpRISE provides funding to 21 youth-serving organizations and schools across Colorado to host coalitions of young people. The UpRISE movement is led by a 10-member Youth Action Board, which includes Ms. McDowell.
Each coalition works with an adult advisor trained by the Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP) at the Colorado School of Public Health to identify young people who want to combat nicotine use.
The primary goal isn’t to issue warnings about the health risks of nicotine, but rather to illuminate use of the substance as a social justice issue, said Ms. Heather Kennedy, Youth Movement Project Manager for CPHP, who wrote the grant for the UpRISE program.
Ms. Kennedy received her Master of Public Health degree in community and behavioral health from ColoradoSPH in 2010.