Vaping Up Among Kalamazoo County Teens

Feb 27, 2019

File photo of a man vaping in New York City in 2014
Credit Frank Franklin II / AP Photo

A new report on substance abuse in Kalamazoo County has mixed news. It says that fewer teens are using alcohol, marijuana, and regular tobacco products.

Ashley Bergeon at Prevention Works is the coordinator of the Kalamazoo County Substance Abuse Task Force. She says it’s found that many teens have an inflated impression about how many of their peers use drugs. "When a teen thinks that everybody, or most people, are doing it, it sort of creates this air of, 'It's normal and maybe I should do it as well.'"

Bergeon says the new report found that while high school students thought a third of them used marijuana, in reality only 12 percent did.

While the news on overall drug use was positive, Bergen says the “2018 Substance Community Report” also found that there’s been a big surge in the number of high school students using e-cigarettes. "This past year, we found that e-cigarettes are actually higher than any other substance use, and while those other substances are declining, e-cigarette use has increased, most markedly at our 11th grade level. It increased ten percent in just two years."

The report says 11th graders are four times more likely to be vaping than 7th graders. It says 22 percent of high school students say they have tried e-cigarettes compared to only three percent for the old fashioned kind. Bergeon says both teens and their parents need more and better information about the health effects of e-cigarettes. "We found that there's a lot of misinformation, that youth and parents often think that e-cigarettes are a 'healthy' alternative to traditional tobacco. What we know, though, is that e-cigarettes often contain nicotine, which is a powerfully addictive substance." 

In 2018, Michigan voters approved legalization of recreational marijuana use by people 21 and older. But Bergeon says there's concern that could lead more underage people to try cannabis. "Our concern is that, with recreational (marijuana) passing, they will continue to see it as safer and safer for them to use. Now, regardless of what your view on adult marijuana use is, I think most of us can agree that teens using marijuana is not something that we want to see."

Results of the “2018 Substance Abuse Community Report” will be presented at a public event Thursday, February 28, at The Foundry on Michigan Avenue in Kalamazoo. The event starts at 5:30 p.m.

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