Just when I thought we were making significant strides at preventing teens from smoking traditional tobacco, the tobacco industry invented vaping and Colorado’s teen vaping epidemic ensued.

I have had to change my practice, the questions I ask my patients, and the counseling I offer because the tobacco industry has been very successful at getting our youth to use their products. 

Anne Shelton

I am a pediatrician and have been practicing for more than six years. My clinic provides care for more than 10,000 pediatric patients in Boulder and Adams counties.

I was trained to care for many ailments, from treating asthma to assessing delays in learning and development.

While these conditions can be challenging, I was prepared to diagnose and manage them. There are best practices and proven interventions to help these patients.

Vaping, unfortunately, is a new epidemic that requires new interventions. It has hit our youth so fast and so hard that the medical community is fighting to catch up. It is estimated that the tobacco industry spends $136 million in advertising right here in Colorado. I can tell you that it is working.

By now, most of you may know that Colorado has the highest teen vaping rate in the country. More than 27% of teens reported that they use e-cigarettes.

Imagine if 27% of teens in Colorado contracted the novel coronavirus. We would act fast and unapologetically to address the problem. We must do the same for teen nicotine use, because the long-term health risks are costly and devastating. 

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In my six years working with youth, I have been encouraged by the fact that more and more patients recognize that smoking cigarettes is dangerous to their health.

This is in part thanks to public health awareness campaigns and prevention efforts. However, today is a whole new ball game because vaping threw a curveball at us.

I now have to specifically include questions about “vaping,” “e-cigarettes” and “JUUL” in my check-ups because many teens do not realize that vaping and combustible cigarettes are the same.

This is particularly concerning because both products contain very high levels of nicotine, and the rapidly developing brains of children and adolescents are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction. 

As reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents typically metabolize or process nicotine slower than adults.

This means that nicotine will affect a teen brain more severely and for a longer period of time, increasing the likelihood that they will become addicted to nicotine. That is why no nicotine product is safe for youth. 

The tobacco industry’s mission to hook youth also comes at an alarming cost to Colorado taxpayers. Roughly $1.89 billion is spent in Colorado to treat nicotine-related health care costs.

That means each Colorado family pays $664 each year to battle the health effects of nicotine addiction. Tobacco and nicotine prevention is not only good for the health of our state, but will also save taxpayers a lot of money. 

I am extremely encouraged to hear that the Colorado legislature is pushing forward with legislation that will begin to tackle this epidemic.

We must hold the adults who sell to teens accountable and make it as hard as possible for teens to get hold of nicotine products. The costs are too catastrophic not to act. Every day in my practice, I see young Coloradans suffer the consequences of not enacting stronger policies sooner.

My elected officials are Rep. Jonathan Singer and Sen. Mike Foote, and I expect them to support HB-1001 and any other nicotine prevention measure that comes forward this session. My patients don’t have time to wait, and neither should we. 

Anne Shelton is a board-certified general pediatrician serving parts of Adams and Boulder counties.

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Anne Shelton

Special to The Colorado Sun