Can Sacramento get a handle on its youth vaping crisis?

Published on
March 13, 2024

The prevalence of teenage vaping has become a pressing health concern, leading to a rise in vape-related lung illness and adolescents with no prior experience of smoking becoming addicted to nicotine.

Vaping and other smokeless alternative forms of nicotine have proliferated as cigarette substitutes but have in turn created new types of addiction in adolescent users. 

Small vape devices are easily disguised as external computer drives or pens and often go undetected by unknowing adults and school staff. High schools around Sacramento County are now installing vape detectors in bathrooms, investing thousands of dollars to combat a nationwide issue that is affecting their local community.

A 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 27.5% of high school students and 10.5% of middle school students disclosed their use of e-cigarettes. Over 5 million students have reportedly tried e-cigarettes, with one million using them daily. Over 51% of middle schoolers who used e-cigarettes mentioned that a vapor device was their first tobacco product experience. 

In 2015, the release of the salt nicotine vaporizer Juul transformed how nicotine was ingested. While other methods were already available, the creation of salt nicotine and flavored options were marketed in ways that critics say appealed to young, underage consumers. 

My interest in the topic began with my previous coverage of teenage vaping in high schools in Galt, California, a city 20 miles south of Sacramento. Two years ago, the Galt City Council announced they’d received a $62,756 grant that allowed the Galt Joint Union High School District to purchase vape detectors, fund decoy operations, and educate Galt high schoolers about health risks stemming from vaping. Hearing testimony about how schools were beginning to combat vaping and the profound impact this funding had on my local community piqued my curiosity. 

My project for the 2024 California Health Equity Fellowship will further explore the teenage vaping epidemic in Sacramento and explore potential solutions. 

The increase in teenage vaping has been linked to aggressive marketing by vape companies. Candy-like flavors, misleading advertising, and peer pressure are associated with vape usage among youth, according to a National Library of Medicine Study

By focusing on Sacramento high schools and going to areas where vape shops are located, I will immerse myself in environments where teenage vaping is most prevalent. This project will focus on diverse sources to offer a more comprehensive understanding of vape usage in Sacramento.

Engaging with pulmonologists and analyzing vape-related policy frameworks will help identify evidence-based policy change efforts that have already taken place at the local level. Reporting locally will provide context to inform future policy changes and aim to consider Sacramento’s youth welfare.

This project aims to elevate public awareness and education, create conversations, and push for options that put those affected in Sacramento to the front when considering community health.